For the first time in nearly 20 years, North Carolina lawmakers voted for and passed a number workers’ compensation law reforms. While many Republicans fought for money-saving reforms that focused on the economy and attracting new business to the state, Democrats worked with labor unions and were concerned about taking away injured worker rights. The changes to the system were active on the first of July.
What do the changes in North Carolina workers’ compensation laws mean for injured workers?
- North Carolina injured workers can now only receive compensation for total disability for 500 weeks, just under ten years. Before the law, workers who were disabled for life due to an on-the-job accident could receive workers’ comp benefits for life. Disabled workers can apply for an extension after the 500 weeks, though it is not clear how often those extensions will be granted.
- The definition of “suitable employment” has been changed. Before the reforms, suitable employment meant a job that required the same qualifications, education, and wage as the job that the worker had before the injury. Now, suitable employment does not necessarily mean a job that pays roughly the same wages as your old job.
- Wage period extended for low-wage workers. Workers who take on low-wage jobs after an accident can choose to receive 2/3 of the difference in wages between their pre- and post-accident for 500 weeks instead of 300 weeks.
- Extended rehabilitation coverage. Injured workers who return to a new job that pays less than ¾ the wage of their former job can receive vocational rehabilitation that is paid for by their employer’s insurance company.
- Extended workers' comp death benefits. If a worker dies in an employment-related accident, his or her beneficiaries will receive workers’ comp benefits for 500 weeks – 100 weeks longer than before the reforms.
These chances to the workers’ compensation law are even more complex than they seem here, and while some affected workers who have already been injured, others do not. To learn about how your own case may be affected by these reforms, speak to a North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney today.