The Intersection Between Race and Compensating Workers for Permanent Partial Disabilities

By: Anthony Cox Jr.

The first half of this blog provides an explanation of the four methods states use to provide benefits to injured workers for permanent partial disabilities pursuant to the state specific workers compensation programs. The second half of this blog addresses the role race plays in worker’s compensation.

The four methods for providing benefits include the: (1) impairment-based approach, (2) loss of earning capacity approach, (3) wage loss approach, and (4) bifurcated approach. The first approach is the most common. Under this approach, the worker with a permanent partial disability receives a benefit based entirely on the degree of the impairment. In the second approach the compensation hinges upon the economic impact the impairment will have on the worker. In the third approach permanent disability benefits are simply the extension of temporary disability benefits until the disabled worker returns to employment. The fourth and final approach is where the benefit for the disability depends solely on the worker’s employment status at the time the worker’s condition is addressed. Under this approach, if the worker has returned to employment with earnings at or near the preinjury level, the benefit is based on the degree of impairment. On the other hand, if the worker has not returned to employment, or has returned but at lower wages than before the injury, the benefit is based on the degree of lost earning capacity.

Courts have yet to address the issue of which of these approaches is the most sustainable one. The bifurcated approach seems to be the most sustainable because it balances the interests of both the employer and employee. Under this approach, an employee is fairly compensated, while employers are not required to compensate the employee beyond necessary.

The four above methods provide a brief understanding of the four methods states use in providing benefits to injured workers for permanent partial disabilities, however many wonder what factors play a role in determining general worker’s compensation. More specifically, does race play a role in determining general workers compensation? This is an issue not many legal scholars have explored, however the answer to this question is an easy one. Race does play a role in workers compensation because of the direct relationship it has with socioeconomic status. Statistically speaking, members of minority races are more likely to come from a low socioeconomic status, than those who are not members of a minority race.

As a result, minorities are more likely to be employed in positions that does not pay enough. Being that all four of the methods states use in providing benefits to injured workers for permanent partial disabilities take into account the amount an individual is compensated, it is fair to conclude a minority partially disabled worker in some instances might not be compensated adequately for their partial disability simply because of their job. A question that needs answered in the near future is how to address this issue.

Sources:

Peter Barth, Compensating Workers for Permanent Partial Disabilities, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v65n4/v65n4p16.html. (last visited November 14, 2014).

League of United Latin Am. Citizens, Council No. 4434 v. Clements, 999 F.2d 831 (5th Cir. 1993).

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