The workers compensation system is designed in part to help workers who have been hurt on the job and will not be able to return to the same kind of work because of their injury. Some injured workers in this situation may be thinking about retiring; for some, this may be the best option. However, injured workers should know how retirement affects their workers compensation rights before making this important decision.

Retirement Does Not End Payment of Medical Bills Related to a Work Injury

Retiring does not mean an employee gives up all of his or her workers compensation rights. Even if an employee retires, the workers compensation insurance carrier is required to pay all medical bills related to the employee’s work injury (as well as mileage for driving to and from these medical appointments). Employees who want to protect this right to coverage of medical bills should take the steps any employee should take following a work injury:

1. Immediately report the injury to the employer.
2. Take care to report the injury accurately and consistently
when speaking with the employer and with medical

Retirement Does Not End Compensation for Lost Wages and Permanent Disability

In addition to providing coverage for medical bills, workers compensation also provides benefits to compensate an injured worker for lost wages and permanent disability resulting from an injury. These benefits can be broken down into two categories: temporary disability benefits (paid while the worker is healing), and permanent disability benefits. As a general rule, if the worker’s injury caused her to retire, the retirement should not affect the worker’s eligibility for these benefits. However, in practice a retirement can greatly complicate a claim for these workers compensation benefits.

The Ideal Retirement Decision Timeline

In deciding whether to retire, an injured employee ideally waits to decide about retirement until after he has healed from the injury and undergone assessment by doctors regarding whether he should have any permanent work restrictions, and whether he sustained any kind of permanent disability. The employee then contacts his employer and the employer determines if the employee can still do the same job, or whether the employer has other work the employee could perform despite restrictions. If the employer does not have work within the employee’s restrictions, the employee would then have a strong claim that the work injury forced his retirement.

When the Ideal Decision Timeline is Impossible…

Financial necessity, however, may make this “ideal” waiting very difficult, especially if the worker’s compensation claim has been denied. If an injured employee is off work because of the injury, and retires before he or she has healed, the employee may still be able to make a claim for benefits. Claims for temporary total disability benefits in this situation are very difficult. Claims for permanent disability, however, may still be possible. Employees can receive permanent disability benefits based on the level of physical disability resulting from a work injury (permanent partial disability benefits or permanent total disability benefits) and benefits based on the how the injury reduces future earnings ability (loss of earning capacity). It is essential that an employee who has retired before she has healed can show she retired because of the work injury and would not have been able to return to work for the employer. The only exception to this is permanent partial disability benefits, which are based only on the level of physical disability to the worker.

Job Retraining May Be a Viable Alternative to Retirement

Injured workers who cannot return to their job but are also not ready or able to retire should know about another workers compensation benefit potentially available to them. These individuals may be able to qualify for a vocational retraining program through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Eligible individuals may be able to receive retraining assistance, with the goal of returning them to their previous earning capacity. This includes receiving temporary total disability benefits while in school, possible financial assistance paying for school or training, and reimbursement for meals and mileage. This benefit requires the injured employee receive permanent restrictions, notify the employer of the restrictions, and give the employer 60 days to determine if it has suitable employment.

Injured workers facing the prospect of no longer being able to work and thinking about retirement have many things to consider: the retirement benefits available to them, what other benefits may be available (including workers compensation, short or long-term disability, and social security benefits), and offsets that might apply. Hawks Quindel has a team of attorneys experienced in not only workers compensation, but in all areas of employment law. If your workers compensation claim has been denied, please contact the experienced workers compensation attorneys at Hawks Quindel for a free consultation.

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Matthew Robles