WORKERS COMPENSATION REFORM
Workers Compensation benefits are governed by Statue. Each year Labor and the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association (KTLA) push for reform in the Kansas Workers Compensation Act. Despite this, there have been very few changes to the Act since 2011. Benefits have remained stagnant. Now that the statewide elections have occurred, the Legislature should address the obvious deficiencies in workers compensation benefits.
SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT OFFSET
K.S.A. 44-501(f) allows the employer to offset workers compensation benefits against social security retirement benefits. This dollar-for-dollar offset gives the employer’s insurance carrier a credit against both temporary and permanent weekly disability payments.
Remember that each of us have payroll taxes deducted from our paychecks. These contributions to FICA fund-in part- social security retirement. The employer also pays payroll taxes. Both employee and employer fund social security retirement. Despite this, the employer is allowed under the Kansas Workers Compensation Act a credit for the payments the employee contributes to social security.
This is true even if the employee was drawing his social security retirement before the work accident. An individual who reaches full retirement age can draw his social security retirement and continue to work. For everyone born after 1960, full retirement age is 67 years old.
With good health and longevity, there are an increasing number of people who work after 67 years old. They continue to receive wages and get a monthly check for social security retirement. In essence they have two sources of income.
However, when that person is injured and cannot work, they do not receive the same benefits as a younger individual. They employer gets to offset the amount of social security retirement benefits against what normally would be owed in weekly work comp checks.
This law punishes older workers. The Social Security retirement offset should be eliminated, especially for those workers who are already drawing social security before the work accident.
PERMANENT TOTAL DISABILITY BENEFITS
Under Kansas law, injured workers receive weekly checks when they are off work due to a work injury. This is called temporary total disability. If the injury is serious and leads to chronic or permanent injury, workers are also entitled to an Award to compensate them for this loss in abilities.
If the injured worker can continue to work, he may be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits. If the individual can no longer work in any capacity due to the effects of the injury, he may be entitled to permanent and total disability benefits.
Currently, the Kansas law limits compensation to a maximum of $155,000.00 for those who can never work again due to a work-related injury or illness. Consider the factory worker who makes $15.00 per hour and works full-time. He has an annual salary of $31,200.00. However, if this same worker is injured and cannot return to work, he would receive only $20,800.00 per year for workers compensation benefits. This would continue only 7 ½ years until the $155,000.00 was fully paid.
If the injured worker is permanently and totally disabled, how he is going to live and pay bills after the workers compensation benefits are terminated?
The current Kansas law provides the lowest benefits in the nation to those who can never work again. For the rest of their lives, the total amount paid is $155,000.00. It does not matter if they are 25 years old or 65 years old at the time of the injury. The total paid is $155,000.00.
We need to care for our injured workers, especially those with permanent devasting injuries. Disability lasts a lifetime. Therefore, disability benefits should also last for life.
This firm, KTLA and Labor continue to fight to increase workers compensation benefits. Please join us in this fight.
McCullough, Wareheim & LaBunker.