Loss of Wage Earning Capacity

By William Turley, Esq. 

Loss of wage earning capacity, or LWEC, is a determination made by the Workers’ Compensation Board in cases where a worker has a permanent partial injury as a result of his or her work-related injury. It is meant to show how the permanent injury affects the injured worker’s ability to earn a living. It applies to certain types of permanent injuries, typically those involving the spine, head, pulmonary and cardiac systems. It can also be applied in cases of psychiatric disability, as well as certain types of extremity injuries (hands, feet, arms and legs), usually those involving complex nerve damage. The percentage of loss of wage earning capacity fixed by the Workers’ Compensation Board determines how far into the future an injured worker may receive weekly cash benefits before they run out (anywhere from four to ten years). In cases where an injured worker is found to be permanently totally disabled (100% loss of wage earning capacity) the cash benefits are paid for the remainder of the injured workers’ life.

When determining loss of wage earning capacity, the Workers’ Compensation Board will review the injured worker’s medical records to see what permanent physical damage was caused by the work-related injury. They will also look into the vocational background of the injured worker and consider factors such as age, level of education, specialized training, military service and work history. In addition, the Board will consider the injured worker’s ability to read, write and speak English.

To understand how this works, compare two injured workers with severe back injuries. Both workers are in their fifties and have the exact same back problem. However, one is a white-collar professional with a college degree and the other is a blue-collar construction laborer with a GED. Although the white -collar worker is in pain much of the time, he has a “sit down” job which requires little or no physical effort. Despite the pain, he can still do his job. The blue-collar worker has a very physical job and it is nearly impossible for him to work as a construction laborer given his back problem. So, who has the greater loss of wage earning capacity? Clearly, the blue collar worker. The back problem is severe for both workers, but for the laborer, it has a big impact on his ability to earn a living. By contrast, it may have little or even no impact on the white collar professional’s ability to earn a living.
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