On Jan. 1, 2017, the maximum weekly income benefit under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act was increased to $817 from the 2016 maximum rate of $785 per week. The minimum rate remains unchanged at $49 per week.
Mileage reimbursement rates for Nebraska actually decreased this year to 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016. For details about mileage reimbursement for workers’ compensation claims, please see these previous blog posts here and here.
The maximum weekly benefit of $817 is 100 percent of the state’s average weekly wage, based on data provided by the Nebraska Department of Labor. Workers’ compensation disability benefits are based on two-thirds of your average weekly wage. So workers who would earn more than $63,726 ($817 times 1.5 times 52) in non-overtime wages would lose out under the cap on maximum benefits. An annual salary of $63,726 works out to roughly $30.64 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.
The fact that workers’ compensation benefits are not taxable somewhat cushions the blow for workers who would lose out under the maximum rate cap, but when a worker is receiving workers’ compensation, that person can sometimes lose the benefit of the employer paying for private health insurance. Injured workers may be forced to pay employers back for paying the workers’ health insurance during a work-injury-related absence.
In most instances, calculating an injured worker’s benefit rate is a fairly simple manner. But some workers who regularly have extended times when they are not working, such as school employees, construction workers, and professional athletes, can present more challenges. If an employee is injured early in employment, then calculating average weekly wage can also be complicated.
Unfortunately, the minimum weekly income benefit remains the same at $49 per week. This amount has not changed since 1973. Often, the minimum-income benefit is not an issue in most workers’ compensation claims, because most people make well-over $73.50 per week (which would be the amount necessary for $49 per week in workers’ compensation benefits). However, this minimum-income benefit can come into play in situations where an employee only works a on a very limited basis with an employer, or simply does an odd job for an employer here or there. In those situations, a devastating injury could be paid at only $49 per week, even if the injured worker had another full-time (and much higher-paying) job if the injury occurred while working on one of those small part-time jobs. The Nebraska Legislature needs to take a look at a rate increase for the minimum for this specific reason.
Though benefit rates are capped for purposes of payment of disability, they are not capped for purposes of vocational rehabilitation or “voc rehab.” Voc rehab is intended to help an injured worker return to a job of similar pay. For example, if a worker earning $90,000 per year is injured and can’t return back to work earning $90,000 per year, that person is entitled to training that would allow the worker to return back to work at $90,000 a year. However, during that retraining, this injured worker would be limited to receiving benefits at the maximum rate for the date of the injury.
Workers earning over the maximum rate could also collect temporary partial disability up to the maximum rate if they were working at reduced time and their wages were high enough.
While the $63,726 total for a year of maximum weekly benefits would be a good income for a single person, that income would qualify a household larger than two for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The high price of child care often leads families to decide to have one spouse stay home and take care of the children while the other spouse works. So for higher-paid workers, even an injury where the employer/insurer takes responsibility for the injury can lead to financial turmoil.