The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has many initiatives and incentives. For employers, L&I designs incentive programs to help mitigate premium increases due to L&I claim costs. One program encourages employers to keep workers on salary after a work injury or workplace disease while they recover. Generally, when employees are unable to work after a workplace injury, we refer to them as “temporarily and totally disabled”. During that time, they are eligible for time-loss compensation benefits.
What is kept-on-salary in your L&I claim?
L&I pays time-loss compensation at a base rate of 60% of the work injury claimant’s wages at the time of injury. However, for self-insured employers, the employer insurance company makes these payments. Then, in some cases, the employer insurance premiums under L&I or their insurance provider might increase. L&I gives employers the option to keep employees on salary. Therefore, employers can continue to pay the employee after a work accident. Consequently, during that period the employer doesn’t pay time-loss, and their premiums don’t increase.
Keeping a person on salary after a work accident or work injury means that the employer continues to pay salary and benefits as before. Here, employers must make consistent payments on certain pay-dates and pay periods without interruption. There are several payments that don’t fall under kept-on-salary. For example, holiday pay, vacation pay, sick leave or bereavement pay do not count. Also, shared leave, severance pay, and paid time off do not constitute kept-on-salary. If an employer decides to reduce or stop benefits, they must report to L&I immediately. In fact, the employer must tells L&I that it’ll keep a work injury claimant on salary. When they do, L&I sends the employer a letter explaining all the relevant rules.
The kept-on-salary program in reality
Many people with a workers’ compensation claim that call my office tell me about their experience. Unfortunately, I frequently see employers misusing the kept-on-salary program. Whether the misuse is intentional or accidental, it often has serious negative consequences for people after a work injury. In detail, I mainly encounter four common kept-on-salary problems. The first issue is when employers tell the work injury victim that they must first use sick time and paid time off or vacation. Often, this happens early in the L&I claim process before workers even think to speak with a workers’ compensation attorney about their workers’ comp claim. The second misuse is when the employer reduces the work injury claimant’s payments to minimum wage. In some cases, they discontinue paying for certain benefits like healthcare. Sometimes, it’s because the person injured at work is not accruing work hours.
Next, the third common problem is when the employer changes their mind and stops payments. When this happens, I see employers make one payment on schedule and then fail to make next payments. Many times, they don’t give the work injury victim any notice in advance. Also, employers often don’t report this to L&I. Eventually, after getting nowhere with the employer, the work injury claimant may ask L&I to pay time-loss. However, there may be additional delays while L&I verifies that the employer is not keeping the worker on salary. This can result in significant delays in payment. On occasion, this cycle happens repeatedly throughout the workers’ compensation claim administration process. Finally, the fourth common misuse is failing to make payments on certain pay periods. When this happens, the person that suffered the injury at work is unable to predict when they’ll get payments. It’s incredibly stressful.
Personal opinion and notes
I don’t take issue with L&I creating incentive programs for employers. On the contrary. These incentive programs make a lot of sense and we need more of them. However, I certainly have a big problem when these programs are detriment to people with a work injury claim. Many individuals that suffer an injury at work have so much to worry about. For example, their recovery, financials, caring for their family, among many other concerns. They should not have to wonder whether they will receive their next payment while they can’t work.
If you have a workers’ compensation claim and you encounter challenges while you’re kept on salary, you should notify your L&I claim manager right away. You can also pick up the phone and consult with an L&I attorney. Be safe and be well. I wish all work injury claimants a speedy recovery and quick return to work.