If you suffer a work-related injury, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, but the approval process involves a disability rating.
Who assigns disability ratings and how does such a rating affect your ability to receive a workers’ compensation award?
Disability or impairment
In determining a rating for workers’ compensation benefits, doctors must first differentiate between an impairment and a disability. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), an impairment refers to a change in health or a deviation from normal bodily functioning. Workers’ compensation programs define a disability as a reduction in wage-earning capacity due to a work-related injury or illness.
Physicians determine disability ratings for the purposes of workers’ compensation benefits. Each state has requirements and many only approve doctors with American Board of Medical Specialties certification. There are basically four disability types: temporary partial, temporary total, permanent partial and permanent total. An employee with a temporary total disability usually returns to work and does not qualify for a workers’ compensation award. However, benefits are available to those with other types of disability ratings. For example, temporary partial disability benefits usually go to disabled employees who can only return to work part-time or take less demanding jobs. An employee who returns to work despite permanent impairment earns a permanent partial disability reward. A severely injured employee who can never work again will receive permanent total disability benefits.
The California schedule
The state of California has a permanent disability rating schedule of its own derived from the fifth edition of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The California schedule contains adjustments to the AMA ratings to address the age of an injured employee plus occupational requirements and future earning capacity.