In agricultural states such as Vermont, workers’ compensation lawyers often meet clients whose employers provide housing and/or board as part of their pay.
Many times injured workers have not properly been advised that the market value of housing and board should be included when calculating their workers’ compensation rate.
The Vermont Workers’ Compensation Act defines “wages” for the purposes of calculating an injured employee’s workers’ compensation rate. The statute specifically states that the term “wages” includes the market value of board and lodging which the employee receives as part of his or her remuneration. This is in keeping with the purpose of temporary total disability benefits which is to replace an injured employee’s present lost wages and the purpose of permanent partial disability benefits which is to compensate for future wage loss.
Vermont Workers’ Compensation Rule 15.4130 provides that the fair market value of any room and board provided to the employee by the employer should be included in the average weekly wage and compensation rate calculation. It notes one exception. If the claimant continues to receive any of these benefits, including room or board, during the period of temporary total disability, the value of the benefits should not be calculated into the workers’ compensation rate for purposes of temporary total disability.
It is a different story when calculating permanent partial disability benefits.
In regard to permanent partial disability benefits, the value of room and board must be included regardless of whether the injured employee continued to receive those benefits during the period of his or her disability. The reason behind this is that the value of housing and board is an appropriate component of the worker’s pre-injury wages, and must be factored into the workers’ compensation rate for purposes of permanent partial disability.
Injured employees who lose their company-provided housing due to their work injury are dealt a double blow; a reduction in their earnings and a loss of housing. They are often faced with taking on additional housing and moving costs at a time when they can least afford it. If the market value of an employee’s room and board is not correctly considered in their workers’ compensation wage calculation, it results in a lower weekly temporary total disability benefit check than the employee should receive. It also reduces their permanent partial disability award which is meant to compensate them for their future lost earning capacity.
As work injury lawyers, we understand the importance of ensuring that your workers’ compensation rate is correctly calculated and know that it can make a huge difference in your family’s life.
For more information see Donovan v. AMN Healthcare, Op.No. 12-11 WC (May, 26, 2011).