Employees do not need to exhaust paid time off (PTO) to receive workers’ compensation benefits in Nebraska. Employers in Nebraska must carry workers’ compensation insurance. But in Nebraska, employers aren’t required to pay PTO. Workers compensation pays out benefits whether you have paid leave or whether you have health insurance.
If you injure yourself at work and someone in management or HR tells you that you need to exhaust your paid leave before you collect workers’ compensation benefits, one of three things might be happening.
1. Someone at your company is misinformed about workers’ compensation.
2. Your employer is misleading you about how workers’ compensation works.
3. Maybe you misunderstood what you were told.
So why do some people think you need to exhaust paid leave before you receive workers’ compensation?
Short-term disability and exhaustion of leave
Many short-term disability policies require that employees exhaust paid leave before claiming short-term disability. My wife was required to burn her paid time off in order claim short-term disability during her maternity leave. White collar employers tend to have more short-term disability claims than workers compensation claims. (They tend to shift work injuries on to short and long-term disability, but that’s another story.) So a white collar HR department that lacks knowledge of workers compensation may, wrongly, assume that injured workers need to exhaust paid leave before receiving workers’ compensation.
The stigma of workers’ compensation
Employers who believe that employees need to burn paid time off before workers’ compensation benefits, may also believe this is necessary because they believe it should be necessary. Burning your paid time off before receiving workers’ compensation would be the same as paying a deductible before health insurance pays. Employers who think PTO should serve as a workers’ compensation deductible may believe that workers’ compensation and workers’ compensation claimants are illegitimate. Forcing employees to burn PTO before receiving workers’ compensation is one way to “hold employees accountable.”
Paying a quasi-deductible to receive workers’ compensation benefits is the cornerstone of a portable benefits scheme dreamed up by Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber. (Portable benefits are touted as a replacement for workers’ compensation —- particularly for gig economy workers. Bad portable plans shift the cost of work injuries onto injured workers.)
Misinformed or mislead: A distinction without a difference
I know some high-injury employers actively misinform employees about workers’ compensation. These employers may tell injured workers they need to use paid time off before they can collect workers’ compensation to discourage injured employees from taking time away from work. Employees may work through pain to avoid missing work and losing out on paid family leave and or paid vacation time.
Nebraska law requires a one-week delay period before an injured worker who is off work can collect temporary disability. If disability lasts longer than six weeks, the employer must pay that first week. . Some employees may take this statement to mean that they need to exhaust their paid leave or PTO to receive workers’ compensation. Many employees don’t want to take the chance of missing out on a week of pay Bluntly many employees may need to draw paid leave or PTO while they are waiting for workers’ compensation benefits to start.
Can you collect workers’ compensation for times you took PTO in Nebraska? Yes you can.
The Nebraska Court of Appeals ruled in Godsey v. Casey’s General Stores that an employee can collect temporary total disability for periods when they took PTO. The court reasoned that since paid leave was a benefit ready earned by the injured worker that an injured worker could collect workers compensation and PTO.