An injured worker in North Carolina who does not expect to be able to return to work may consider retirement if he or she is old enough or has the required number of years on the job. However, retiring while receiving workers’ compensation benefits may have a detrimental impact on your claim.
If you are wondering whether you can retire and still collect workers’ compensation, you need to speak to a workers’ comp lawyer who is knowledgeable about North Carolina’s workers’ compensation rules. The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Hardison & Cochran can review your claim and help you to understand how retirement may affect your workers’ compensation benefits.
Can You Retire While on Workers’ Compensation?
If you have reached retirement age according to the Social Security Administration or qualify to retire according to your employer’s retirement plan, an open workers’ compensation claim should not prevent you from retiring. It is possible that your retirement will have no impact on your workers’ compensation claim. But that depends on your injury and the type of workers’ benefits you are due.
The typical workers’ comp benefit is twofold:
- Medical benefits, which pay 100% of your medical bills related to a workplace injury or illness
- Disability benefits, which provide payments equal to 66% of your weekly wages because of your inability to work.
First, all of your medical bills related to your injury or illness – from the moment of injury or diagnosis onward – should be covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. This is true regardless of your employment status. If your employer or the workers’ compensation administrator balks at paying a medical bill, you should speak to a workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible.
Second, wage replacement payments, also known as disability benefits, may be paid for temporary or permanent disability. If you have suffered a temporary disability, such as a broken leg, disability payments end once you have recovered and the presiding doctor says you are fit to return to work.
If you are no longer receiving wages because you retired, you may no longer receive wage replacement benefits.But if you lose the use of a leg or another body part, you may be eligible for compensation payments for permanent disability.
Under N.C. workers’ compensation law (N.C.G.S. 97-31), each scheduled body part is assigned a specific number of weeks of benefits. For the loss of a leg, for example, a worker is paid 66% of their average weekly wages for 200 weeks (almost four years). Retirement, which might be made appropriate due to your loss of a leg, should have no effect on that benefit.
It is sometimes advantageous to negotiate a lump sum settlement to a workers’ compensation claim. A lump sum settlement is a single large payment that is intended to cover all future medical expenses related to your occupational injury or illness.
An attorney can help you assess factors that must be considered before seeking a lump sum settlement, such as:
- Your overall financial situation
- Your medical condition and the likelihood of future complications
- The total payment available
- How other benefits or payments may affect your income and/or claim.
If you are receiving Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, your total benefit may be reduced. All of your Social Security retirement benefits may be deducted from your workers’ comp payment. If you receive SSD benefits, the total amount of SSD and workers’ comp cannot exceed 80% of your average earnings before you were disabled.
Can You Retire and Later Claim Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
You might expect any employer to question a workers’ compensation claim from someone who no longer works for the company. But your retirement should have no impact on your ability to proceed with a valid workers’ comp claim as long as you meet the requirements of a claim.
North Carolina’s workers’ compensation program generally gives you 30 days from the date of an injury or diagnosis of an illness to report it in writing to your employer along with a request for workers’ comp benefits. It is best to provide notification as soon as possible. If necessary, a lawyer can help if you are incapacitated.
After notifying your employer, you have up to two years to file a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina. An individual who has suffered a catastrophic injury might be incapacitated for a year or longer. A person who did not understand the workers’ comp system or who had a family member making decisions for them could sever their employment before filing a claim. But if two years have not elapsed, a claim may be possible.
In other cases, a cumulative injury – such as chronic lower back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome – could grow worse over time. A worker might retire and lose mobility due to a condition caused by years of physical exertion at their former job. If a worker obtains a medical diagnosis within two years of an accident on the job, which had been reported, the worker may have a right to claim benefits.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim requires submitting an application for benefits (known as Form 18) to the North Carolina Industrial Commission. If you have retired, you may submit it and notify your employer, or an attorney could assist you.
As stated on Form 18, it is “the employee’s obligation to file a claim.
The Industrial Commission will mail an acknowledgment letter to you after processing your Form 18. It will also mail a copy of the acknowledgment letter to the employer or its workers’ compensation insurance carrier asking them to contact you and inform you whether they will voluntarily pay your claim. If you are told your claim will be challenged or you do not hear from your former employer or their insurer in a reasonable amount of time, you should consult with a lawyer.
Get Help with Your N.C. Workers’ Compensation Claim
Workers’ compensation claims can be complex, particularly if your injury or illness requires you to retire or changes your employment status. Common mistakes can derail your claim or reduce the benefits paid. The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Hardison & Cochran can respond promptly to help you pursue a workers’ compensation claim and seek the maximum benefits available by law.
Phone Hardison & Cochran or fill out our online contact form. We serve injured workers across North Carolina, including those in Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Research Triangle Park, Wake County, Fayetteville, Dunn, Greensboro, Wilmington, Person County, Greenville, and Southern Pines. Let our workers’ compensation lawyers help you today.