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Should Injured Workers File for Both Unemployment Benefits and Time-Loss Benefits?
When a worker is injured or made sick within the course of their employment, and is therefore unable to work, the injured worker is entitled to time loss compensation. However, payment of that compensation may be delayed weeks, months or even years if the Department of Labor and Industries (Department) or Self-Insured Employer (SIE) contests either the claim validity or the amount of the benefits due. Injured and sick workers are often left scrambling to pay their bills under those circumstances.
Should Injured Workers File for Both Unemployment Benefits and Time-Loss Benefits Corresponding to the Same Time Period?
Many injured or sick workers naturally draw upon unemployment benefits as a means of securing the finances they need to survive. As long as the Department or SIE refuse to pay while claiming the injured worker is able to return to work in some capacity, the worker can apply for unemployment benefits from the Employment Security Department (ESD). Some workers are eligible. Some are not. Eligibility is determined based upon complex rules that consider how long the injured worker was employed prior to their injury and what their pre-injury wages were from all employments considered.
Drawbacks to Filing For Both Unemployment and Time-Loss Benefits
There are some drawbacks to filing for unemployment benefits while also claiming a right to L&I time-loss payments. The principle drawback is that a worker is not entitled to receive both time loss benefits and unemployment benefits during the same period. So, if the injured or ill worker utilizes their unemployment eligibility as a means of bridge-financing the period of time when the Department or SIE are not paying, the injured worker will owe some or all of the unemployment benefits back to ESD once time loss benefits are finally paid.
For most people historically, drawing unemployment benefits while also claiming time-loss simultaneously made very good financial sense. Unemployment would be paid weekly. The injured worker would then get paid by the Department or SIE for the same period after resolving whatever dispute previously existed. The injured worker would then use the newly-acquired time loss benefits to repay unemployment payments previously funded by ESD, less a percentage that corresponded to the worker’s costs for recovery (payments made to expert witnesses, court reporting and filing fees, as well as the L&I attorney fee). The worker would then regain their prior unemployment benefit eligibility and could still use that when their L&I claim is closed.
Navigating This Decision During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on our national economy, Congress has passed various stimulus programs which have increased the amount of weekly benefits available to displaced workers. ESD does not inquire whether the displacement was caused by an industrial injury or occupational disease. Instead, anyone that is eligible receives the augmented weekly unemployment benefit amounts, which because they have been as much as $600 per week higher than in the past, may change the calculus as to whether or not it makes sense in an individual case to simultaneously file for both unemployment benefits and back-due time loss corresponding to the same period.
How Can Washington Law Center Help?
The decision to file for unemployment benefits is one which you should discuss with your attorney. The short-term benefits may outweigh the long-term costs. They may not. The analysis is entirely fact-dependent and will vary from case to case. If you have questions about this topic, consult your Washington Law Center Attorney today. If you are not represented, please feel free to call for a free consultation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alden Byrd is an L&I attorney focusing on workers’ compensation claims for individuals that have suffered workplace injuries. He represents injured workers from initial claim filing all the way through the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals and on to the Superior Court or Court of Appeals. Alden is also an active volunteer for the Housing Justice Project in King County. Click here to learn more about Alden.
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