Workers’ Compensation: Keeping Your Benefits
If you suffered a work-related injury or illness, you are entitled to compensation and support. In New Jersey, workers’ compensation benefits include medical benefits, wage replacement, and permanent disability compensation. Wage replacement and disability compensation can be awarded as temporary total benefits, permanent partial benefits, or permanent total benefits. If you are the dependent of a worker who died on the job or as a result of employment, you are entitled to a death benefit. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program. Regardless of who was at fault for the injury or illness, the insurance must pay. In exchange for the benefits, the employee cannot bring a suit against the employer, for example, suing for pain and suffering, unless the employer’s act was intentional.
The system is not simple. Your employer may dispute your claim, in whole or part, arguing that the injury was not work-related, medical treatment was inappropriate or unnecessary, or temporary disability benefits are not justified. Keeping your benefits will require filing a claim petition or an application for an informal hearing with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation. You have the right to file the claim petition on your own, but the Division recommends you consult with a workers’ compensation attorney if you are involved in a dispute, filing a claim petition or filing an application for an informal hearing. An attorney cannot charge a fee to represent you in a workers’ compensation matter. The fee will be set by the judge assigned to your case. Attorney fees are normally limited to 20% of the amount awarded to you. An employer will generally be represented by a lawyer hired by the insurance company. A self-insured employer is required to hire counsel.
Threats to your workers’ compensation benefit payments
Aside from disputing the claim, your employer may use other strategies to attempt to stop your workers’ compensation benefits, including the following:
- You may be offered an inappropriate work accommodation, a job for which you are under- or over-qualified. Your employer may attempt to stop your benefit payments when you refuse the position.
- The employer’s insurance company may offer a lump sum settlement in place of weekly workers’ compensation payments, permanently limiting the total amount of your compensation.
- Your employer may refuse to report your accident to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
- The employer may attempt to limit your temporary total disability benefits on the basis of a single impairment rating evaluation.
Retaliation for filing a claim or testifying
It is illegal for your employer to fire or discriminate against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim or for testifying in a workers’ compensation case. You can file a claim of workers’ compensation discrimination with the New Jersey Office of Special Compensation Funds. If your employer terminated you because of a work-related disabling condition, you can file a federal claim of violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C.
If you have been treated unfairly or illegally by your employer, New Jersey State and federal agencies provide avenues for compensation under laws governing discrimination and workers’ compensation. A lawyer with experience in those areas can explain your options and how you may be able to challenge your employer’s actions.