If I were to list the top 10 mistakes made on workers’ compensation cases in Washington State, near the top would be a worker failing to appeal a wage order that sets his or her monthly wages too low.
A worker’s time loss compensation is based on how much he or she earned at the time of injury. If the department sets those earnings too low, the worker could lose a significant amount of time loss compensation.
By state law (RCW 51.08.178 and 51.32.060), when a worker goes on time loss, the department has to establish "the monthly wages the worker was receiving from all employment at the time of the injury." This is not as straightforward as it sounds, and the department often arrives at a figure well below a worker’s true earnings.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. Let's say a worker earns $25 per hour and normally works full time. The L&I formula -- $25 per hour, 8 hours per day, 22 days per month, totaling $4,400 per month in wages. The worker's time loss rate will then be a percentage of $4,400. The time loss rate for a married worker with no dependent children is 65% of his or her monthly wages. In this example, 65% of $4,400 is $2,860 per month.
Often, L&I will average out the hours worked over some arbitrary period, such as 6 or 12 months. If someone changed jobs, or was sick, she may have missed work during that period. Instead of getting credit for being a full-time worker, L&I will determine that the worker averages, say, 6 hours per day. Now the formula would be -- $25 per hour, 6 hours per day, 22 days per month, totaling $3,300 per month. If the worker is married with no dependents, her time loss compensation rate would be $2,145. In reality, she should be getting $2,860 not $2,145. The loss adds up. Over the course of a year, the worker will lose $8,580.
When you go on time loss, check the wages set by L&I in the wage order. If you think they might be wrong, be sure to appeal the wage order within 60 days. If you don’t appeal in time, the wage order will become permanent and binding. You will not be able to go back and get it corrected.
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