The Washington Post ran a feature story about “Work Campers” – senior citizens who live in campers and travel around for temporary jobs. The story noted that many, if not most, work campers were forced into the lifestyle by inadequate retirement savings and Social Security retirement benefits that have lost 30 percent of their purchasing power since 2000. The story also noted that the number of senior citizens working has increased from 4 million to 9 million during that same time period.
The idea of a growing number of senior citizens essentially acting as migrant laborers strikes many as odd and even dystopian. But work campers will present interesting challenges to the workers compensation system. Though some studies show that older workers are less likely to get hurt on the job, this finding is attributed to older workers having more experience on the job. Since work campers tend to hop from temporary job to temporary job, their chances of injury could increase as temporary workers are more likely to get hurt.
This growing development in the workforce raises many issues for work campers who are hurt on the job because workers compensation laws are state specific so benefits and eligibility for benefits vary from state to state.
Here are some questions that will face work campers when they are injured on the job.
Which states and jurisdictions can you collect benefits?
Employees may be eligible to claim benefits in the state where they are injured, their state of permanent residence, the state their employer is based or the state they were hired. Employees may also be able to claim benefits in multiple states. Employees may also be able to bring claims under the Jones Act or Longshore Act if they were hurt on a ship or a navigable body of water. It helps to get advice from a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer as the decision as to where an employee should claim benefits should be driven by where they have the best chances of recovery.
Which states limit permanent benefits for older workers?
Iowa recently limited workers over the age of 67 from receiving permanent disability benefits for more than 150 weeks. A work camper who was covered under Iowa law and seriously injured could only receive 2 ½ years of benefits.
What is the law on pre-existing conditions?
Many elderly workers have preexisting conditions. In some states those preexisting conditions may impair the ability of an injured work camper to collect benefits. In Missouri employees need to show an injury is a “prevailing factor” in the disability whereas in Nebraska employees merely show the work injury was a “contributing factor” to the disability. In other words, it would be more difficult for a work camper to collect benefits in Missouri for the aggravation of an old injury than it would be in Nebraska.
How do you determine earnings?
Disability benefits are based on earnings or what is called average weekly wage. The work campers profiled in the Washington Post were fairly low wage employees. However some work camping contracts include provisions for benefits like lodging that have a real monetary value. In some states, like Nebraska, those non-cash benefits can be included in the average weekly wage. Short term work assignments also present difficulties in determining average weekly wage because they might not accurately reflect an employee’s actual earning capacity. There could also be questions as to whether employment is seasonal or weather dependent which could also alter the average weekly wage.
Again, calculations of earnings can vary state by state, so work campers injured on the job should contact a member of WILG who specialize in workers compensation and regularly communicate with workers compensation specialists in other states.