Volunteer Workers Comp Benefits – Payable or Not?
Volunteer workers comp benefits confuses many in the industry. One of the first mistakes I made eons ago when I was a desk adjuster involved me only paying medical benefits to a volunteer injured while on the job – or off the job?
It was a hard lesson and only one of two times I was ever fined by a State Workers Compensation Board. There was no wage statement and therefore no volunteer workers comp benefits other than some medical treatment.
I was called into the Claims VP’s office, wow – this was not going to be good. In there sat my supervisor and my Claims Manager with a look of disgust on their faces – yes, all three – a bad Monday to say the least.
The Claims VP brought up the injured workers name and employer. I explained that I paid medical benefits timely and the volunteer had no indemnity benefits payable.
That is when my Claims Manager – while leering at me – handed me a letter from a US Senator (not state) where the injured employee wrote him/her to ask for assistance as I would not pay any indemnity benefits to them. I was aghast. Was I in trouble for doing my job properly?
I thought to myself sitting on my Claims VP’s couch – hey it was very comfortable leather, but I wanted to be anywhere than there at that moment in time.
I said that I would draft a memo to my supervisor, Claims Manager, and Claims VP explaining what had happened except then I was handed another letter from the injured volunteer’s State Workers Comp system that informed me to pay benefits with a 10% fine to the employee. Whew!
OK – nightmare scene over except I can still smell that new leather couch to this day.
Three or More Schools of Thought on Paying Volunteer Workers Comp Benefits
This area of Workers Comp can be very hotly debated among claim departments, State Regulators, attorneys, and anyone that deals with WC claims. The three different ways to pay volunteers or interns are:
- Like I paid in the nightmare scene – woops!, right benefits in the wrong state<<I was handling seven different states at the time.
- Pay them the minimum compensation – $30 per week – what I should have paid on the file
- Pay the injured employee at the same rate of an employee that does the same type of work, but actually receives pay for it.
#3 above generates more than just a few debates. Some of the comments I have heard over the years were:
- If one pays a volunteer at a rate of $200 per week weekly indemnity benefits, then where is the motivation to return to work?
- How does one even calculate what is owed to a volunteer?
- Is Permanent Partial Disability also owed if the physician rates the employee?
- What does the employer put on the applicable state’s Wage Statement for Benefits?
OK – back to my situation –
#2 on the list above applied at the time – $30 was the appropriate weekly amount. The injured employee was billed directly by the medical providers as they had thought the volunteer would not have their claim paid through Workers Comp. When the first medical bills came in, the employee panicked and called his US (not State) Senator as the bills were not small.
The volunteer had only missed a few days of work – less then 21 calendar days. The benefits payable were 2 weeks and 2 days of indemnity benefits. Subtracting the first week waiting period, only 9 (yes just 9) days of Workers Comp was owed to the volunteer.
So 9/7 * $30 = $38.57 + the $3.86 fine = $42.43 was paid to the injured volunteer.
The frustrating part was I called the volunteer within 24 hours of receiving the FROI (First Report of Injury). He had informed me he was going back to work the next day, which kept him in the waiting period – with no indemnity benefits payable. No medical note had even mentioned that he not return to work. I even took a recorded statement.
By the way, the other fine I have ever caused was waived, so my only fine ever on any claims over my career was $3.86.
Minimum Workers Comp Benefits
The moral of the story is to know your Workers Comp minimum weekly benefit in each state which you operate. Also, all employers and adjusters should know if volunteer workers comp benefits are payable.
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