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Differences Between Workers' Compensation and Disability Benefits

When a worker gets injured on the job, no one knows for sure exactly how long those injuries will last. Sometimes, a worker could have to step away from their job for a few weeks to recuperate. Other times, injuries or illnesses can last for months, even years, or for the rest of that worker’s life.

With so many variances in how long a workplace injury can last, are there different ways that workers’ compensation benefits can be pursued and assigned? Yes, actually. A simple way to look at the situation is that workers’ compensation is helpful when the injured worker is expected to make a total or significant recovery, and disability insurance benefits are helpful when the worker is not.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Most Employees

Workers’ compensation benefits are provided by an employer to an eligible worker or employee. In the event of a worker getting hurt at work or while performing a job-related duty, workers’ compensation insurance triggers and should provide full coverage for all necessary medical treatments. As a no-fault system, workers’ compensation benefits are meant to be provided to an injured worker in just about every circumstance, even when that worker’s own mistakes caused their accident and injuries.

Most workers’ compensation programs also provide injured workers with vocational retraining. If a worker is too injured to keep working in the same capacity, then they must be retrained to work a different position at a closely similar wage as what they had been earning prior to their accident. When there is no such position available in the claimant’s current company, workers’ comp may provide educational resources to complete a degree or training course to find gainful employment in a different industry.

A downside to workers’ comp is that it does not guarantee any form of wage replacement to a claimant. Lost wages and income will not be considered until the worker is temporarily or permanently disabled and cannot work in a typical capacity. Workers’ comp coverage also makes it difficult for an injured worker to file an injury claim against their own employer for workplace negligence. Under this system, receiving additional damages like pain and suffering damages might be impossible.

How Disability Pay Differs from Workers’ Comp

Disability insurance coverage is different from workers’ compensation in that disability pay is often provided through a state-run program that does not require the claimant’s injury to happen at work. Instead, disability benefits are meant to provide medical treatment coverage and some wage replacement when someone is partially, totally, temporarily, or permanently disabled and cannot continue to do their job as they did before or at all. People who are covered by a privately purchased disability insurance policy, such as a self-employed entrepreneur, often receive similar benefits without a state agency’s oversight or intervention.

In most cases, disability payments will be equal to two-thirds of the claimant’s average weekly wages and will be paid until they are able to work again or until the policy ends. Many disability pay policies end coverage at 104 weeks, but some may be shorter or longer, depending on the state, the policy provider, or the permanence of the claimant’s disabilities.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is perhaps the most well-known form of disability insurance available to many Americans with lifelong disabilities that preclude them from essentially all forms of work. SSDI provides its benefits until the claimant retires, which will make them eligible for Social Security Retirement benefits instead.

Should You Use Workers’ Comp or Disability Pay?

When it comes to protecting your wages and preserving your health after a workplace accident, the correct option is usually to consider both workers’ compensation and disability insurance options. In many cases, an injured worker will start by receiving workers’ comp benefits until they run out. At that point, if they are unable to return to work, then they will shift their attention to disability pay through a separate provider, such as a state-run disability program.

To understand how and when to use workers’ comp and/or disability benefits, you should always talk with a local workers’ compensation attorney. They will be able to guide you through your options and share their familiarity with state-level laws that could influence your unique situation.