Teachers Deserve Better: How the Workers’ Compensation System Deprives Educators
Teacher’s Deserve Better:
How the Workers’ Compensation System Cheats Educators
We are blessed to have so many committed teachers who devote countless hours and energy to educating our children. We all know our teachers are underpaid. What many teachers we work with don’t know is just how underpaid they are if injured at work.
Under South Carolina law, a worker who is out of work as a result of a job injury is not entitled to compensation in the same amount that he/she was making. Instead, the worker is entitled to weekly payments of 2/3 of her “average weekly wage.”
South Carolina Code of Laws §42-1-40 calculates “average weekly wage” as follows: take the total wages paid for the last four quarters …and divide by:
- fifty-two or
- the actual number of weeks for which wages were paid, whichever is less.
Here is how this works. Most jobs have an annual salary where a worker is employed 52 weeks out of the year. Assume this worker makes $40,000 per year and is injured on the job. Her average weekly wage would be $40,000/52 = $769. This injured worker would then be entitled to 2/3 of this amount or $512 in weekly compensation.
Teachers and most school district employee’s jobs are different. South Carolina Code of Laws §59-1-425(A) specifically provides that the school year consists of 190 days and teachers are paid for 190 days (38 weeks). Although a teacher is paid for 38 weeks of work, most elect to receive their paychecks stretched out and reduced over a 52-week pay period. As a result, when a teacher is injured at work, the school district’s worker’s compensation carrier is calculating the average weekly wage utilizing 52 weeks instead of 38 weeks, which unfairly dilutes the teacher’s compensation. Why do they do this? Because it saves them money and most teachers aren’t aware they are being cheated out of what they are entitled to.
An example of a recent case we took all the way up to the South Carolina Court of Appeals illustrates how significant injured teachers are being short changed by the workers compensation system. We represented a teacher who worked for the Charleston County School District. She was seriously injured breaking up a fight and required a neck and back surgery. She worked during the school year but not during the summer. Similar to the example above, our client made approximately $40,000 the year before but elected to receive her payments over a 52-week period. The school district’s workers compensation carrier computed her average weekly wage as follows: $40,000/52 = $769.
We argued our client’s wages were paid based on 38 weeks of work, not 52 weeks, and therefore her average weekly wage should be calculated as follows: $40,000/38 = $1,052. In our case, because our teacher had two surgeries, she had permanent disability payments she was also entitled to and utilizing 38 weeks as opposed to 52 weeks made a big difference.
The South Carolina Education Association, who is the largest organization of professional educators, filed an Amicus Curiae Brief with the Court of Appeals in support of our position because it recognized the importance of this decision for all teachers throughout the state. Prior to oral argument, the workers compensation carrier asked to settle and agreed to compensate our client utilizing our calculations and the case was dismissed. However, because the issue was never decided by the Court of Appeals, the school district continues to utilize 52 weeks to purposely reduce what teachers are owed. They will continue to do it because they have the deep pockets and don’t think educators will stand up to them. If you are injured at work, please educate yourself and don’t be afraid to fight for your rights. If you are injured at work and need legal representation please feel free to contact us.