How is workers’ compensation different for top draft picks?

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New Orleans Pelicans forward, Zion Williamson (The Athletic)

It’s hard to imagine an injured highly paid professional athlete as a workers’ compensation claimant. Their wealth shields them for many of the difficulties an injured worker can experience. But their experience as injured workers gives the public insight into the some of the challenges faced by injured workers.

New Orleans Pelicans forward and NBA top draft pick, Zion Wiliamson, injured his right knee in the preseason.  Here are few takeaways on the injury and its media coverage from the perspective of a workers’ compensation lawyer.

New employees are more likely to get hurt – Studies show that new employees are more likely to get hurt on the job. In this respect Zion Williamson is similar to many other new employees.  Injuries to new employees pose all sorts of issues for injured workers. How do you calculate workers’ compensation benefits? What if you have to miss time from work? Williamson likely doesn’t have those problems for a few reasons.

Average weekly wage A major issue for new employees is how to calculate the amount of their workers’ compensation benefits. Even if Williamson wasn’t making millions of dollars, this wouldn’t be a problem for him because he has an actual employment contract that states how much he is to be paid. 

Leave for the injured new employeeA typical employee at-will employee isn’t required to be granted leave until they have been employed for one year.  That assumes the employee is covered by the Family Medical Leave Act. But Williamson is covered by a contract with the Pelicans. He is also covered by a collective bargaining agreement through the NBA Players Association. So unlike the typical new at-will employee hurt on the job, Williamson likely has the time to recover from his work injury without having to worry about losing his job.

Pre-existing injuries and uncertainties over reporting – Williamson injured his right knee playing for Duke in February 2019. At least according to press reports, there is some question about the right knee injury occurred. Nonetheless, I would assume the Pelicans will pick up Williamson’s medical care through workers’ compensation.

But if you aren’t an elite-level NBA power forward and you tell your employer you aren’t sure how you hurt your knee, but you know you hurt it eight months ago, don’t be surprised if workers’ compensation doesn’t cover that injury.

On the off chance the Pelicans deny Williamson’s workers’ compensation, claim based on causation and/or the definition of accident, Williamson probably would have the money to cover his medical treatment. Most other injured workers lack that ability.

As an aside, if it was determined that Williamson’s knee injury was caused by his play at Duke, those injuries would not be covered by workers’ compensation. Eventhough the NCAA recently allowed student-athletes to make money through endorsements, they aren’t employees who are entitled to workers’ compensation.

General ignorance of workers’ compensation – I like basketball but I don’t follow it closely. I didn’t find out about Williamson’s injury until I saw an article in The Onion entitled “Pelicans HR Informs Zion Williamson Knee Surgery Not Covered Until 90 Days Into First Season.

Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation and employees are covered by workers’ compensation on their first day of work. The Onion is satire but it’s fairly typical of the misunderstanding of workers’ compensation by the media and entertainment industry. California’s Assembly Bill 5 is often described as a bill that provides sick leave and health insurance to gig economy workers. Sick leave and health insurance often aren’t required benefits, but workers’ compensation is a mandatory benefit. AB5 expands workers’ compensation to gig economy workers.

Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler was griping about AB5 in a recent column. Kessler didn’t mention workers’ compensation in his column. Any pundit opining about AB5 who doesn’t understand the fundamentals of employee benefits, should be discounted or ignored.


The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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