If you've been injured on the job and are now out of work, you may be struggling financially. It's often difficult to find information about the smartest route to take - applying for unemployment or for workers' comp.
Workers' comp is the obvious choice, particularly if your employer wants to keep you on as an employee after you've healed.
However, you may have heard that workers' comp claims can take a long time to process, and are sometimes, after a long deliberation process, outright denied. That means you could wait for weeks for a verdict on your claim - only to find out no checks are forthcoming.
On the other hand, filing for unemployment, while it can be processed much more quickly, generally nets you far less money to pay your bills. And you may not even be eligible for unemployment. In North Carolina, you are only eligible for unemployment if you worked 12 out of the last 16 months.
What Is the Monetary Difference Between Unemployment and Workers' Comp?
(Please note that all figures in this article are for the purposes of illustration. They are not a guarantee of the actual monetary amount you will receive if you apply for either unemployment or workers' compensation).
In North Carolina, your weekly unemployment benefits are calculated by adding up your wages in the last two quarters of the base period and dividing that amount by 52. That figure determines what your weekly unemployment check will be. (Currently, the most you can receive each week is $350 per week.)
For example, if you earn an annual salary of $40,000, your last two quarters would be approximately $20,000. Dividing that by 52 you get approximately $384.61, so you'd receive the maximum weekly unemployment check of $350 a week - less than half the salary you'd formerly been relying on.
Workers' Comp Benefits
By contrast, a successful workers' comp claim is two-thirds of your average weekly wage for the year prior to your injury. If you've worked for the employer for less than a year, they would use your earnings up until the date of injury. In our scenario where your salary is $40,000/year, the amount of your weekly checks would be about $513 - much better than the $350 from unemployment.
Can You Apply for Both Unemployment and Workers' Comp?
Are you allowed to apply for both unemployment and workers' comp - as a sort of safeguard in case one doesn't come through?
The short answer is yes, you can. The long answer is: yes, you can, but you really shouldn't without solid legal representation, because if you don't handle the situation exactly right, you could find yourself being denied for both!
What Makes Applying For Both Such a Tricky Scenario?
Unemployment benefits are designed to help you pay your bills when you lose your job. Workers' compensation replaces your wages at your existing job when you can no longer work because of an on-the-job injury.
Collecting workers' comp and unemployment is not legal for one simple reason: workers' comp implies that you still have a job, even though you're not currently performing your duties because of an injury. In the eyes of the state you do not qualify for unemployment since, technically, you are still employed.
That said, workers' comp claims can take some time to process, and you don't know whether your claim will be granted or denied. During that time, when you're waiting for your workers' comp claim, you may be able to collect unemployment to cover your bills - with some serious caveats.
You can apply for unemployment in North Carolina while your claim for workers' comp is being processed and you may receive benefits up until the point that your workers' comp claim is granted. This can be the best option for many people, since workers' comp claims can take some time to process, and in the meantime, of course, you need to keep a roof over your head.
We strongly recommend that you have a qualified workers' compensation lawyer handle this scenario for you.
How Can a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Help Maximize Your Unemployment Benefits?
A lawyer can help make sure you're not accidentally setting off alarm bells at the various agencies processing these claims. In many cases, employees who apply for both workers' comp and unemployment are seen as attempting to defraud the system, and you want to avoid that at all costs. We've seen a lot of people who applied for both without representation, and were denied because the agencies may have assumed they were trying to double dip.
When attempting to collect unemployment while waiting for workers’ comp results correctly and legally, you won't actually be receiving double benefits. And with the aid of a lawyer, the state of North Carolina will have no reason to think you're attempting to do so.
If your workers' comp claim is accepted, you will be entitled to disability checks dating from one week after the date your injury - which is to say, checks that cover a period of time that has already passed while the claim was being processed.
If you've been collecting unemployment during this time (which is legal), you would effectively be in the position where you were collecting unemployment and workers' comp checks during the same period of time (which is not legal). To ward off any likelihood of double dipping, your workers' comp insurance carrier is typically given credit for the amount of unemployment benefits you've already received.
Once again, this is a situation where a lawyer can be extremely beneficial. The deduction for credit against your workers' comp benefits is not absolute and has to be approved by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. You'll want a solid legal team behind you to be sure the final accounting comes out properly.
NC Workers Comp Attorneys Can Evaluate Your Claim - FREE
If you've recently been injured on the job and aren't sure whether filing for unemployment or workers' comp - or both (with legal support) - is best for you, please click here or give us a call toll free at 1-866-900-7078.
We work on a contingency fee basis to help our clients figure out the best options for their situation, and we may be able to help you determine what course of action is most likely to keep food on the table and lights on overhead while you recover from your injury.