Injured workers are often forced to navigate the tricky waters of unemployment when they have a workers’ compensation claim. Not understanding how the two sets of laws interact can lead injured workers to trouble in unemployment and workers’ compensation for people who can ill afford the trouble. Here are some answers that Nebraska workers applying for unemployment after a work injury would want to know.
- When can you receive both workers’ compensation benefits and unemployment at the same time?Nebraska law allows you to collect workers’ compensation benefits and unemployment benefits at the same time only if your rate of weekly work comp benefit is worth less than your weekly unemployment. In that case, you collect your full workers’ compensation benefit, and unemployment pays the difference between your comp check and the unemployment benefits check. The advantage to the worker in this scenario is that the workers’ compensation is not subject to tax, while the unemployment benefits are taxable.Unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits rates are set under different formulas. You might fall into this category if you were injured shortly after starting a lower-paying job but had previously earned higher wages for a length of time at your previous job.However, if you do receive workers’ compensation benefits that are higher than your unemployment benefits, you cannot collect unemployment benefits.
- Won’t I “hurt” my workers’ compensation case if I have received unemployment benefits?There used to be some truth to concerns of unemployment benefits reducing the amount an employer has to pay on a workers’ compensation case. However, those concerns have temporarily been eliminated by the recent case of Hernandez v. JBS, found at this link: http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov/sites/supremecourt.ne.gov/files/coa/opinions/a12-435.pdf. In Hernandez, the Nebraska Court of Appeals overruled a Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court judge who reduced the temporary total disability (TTD) pay awarded to a worker, who was fired by JBS, by the amount he received in unemployment.I believe the Nebraska Court of Appeals used sound reasoning to make their ruling in Hernandez. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court has the ability to overturn the Nebraska Court of Appeals. Also, the Nebraska Legislature has the ability to rewrite Nebraska workers’ compensation and/or unemployment laws to overturn Hernandez.I would expect efforts to overturn Hernandez will be made in the courts and Legislature. My guess is the argument for overturning Hernandez will be that injured workers are receiving a “windfall” by receiving workers’ compensation on top of unemployment.
This argument is nonsense. First of all, if a worker receives work comp benefits and unemployment, judges with the Nebraska Department of Labor and the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court have likely both found that the employee was not at fault for being terminated. Second, if a worker who cannot work because of a work injury is forced to apply for unemployment because he or she isn’t receiving workers’ compensation, there is a good chance that the employer either concocted a reason to fire the employee or forced the injured worker to do a job that she or he was unable to do.