In recent years, Uber and Lyft have become increasingly popular modes of transportation — and also a good way for people to earn money as a driver, either full-time or part-time. But can a person who is injured at work and collecting workers’ compensation benefits drive for a ride-sharing company like Uber or Lyft? What about somebody who sustained work injuries but their workers’ comp. claim has not been accepted? Here is the scoop on how it works.
We’re going to take you through a hypothetical to help explain it. Suppose you injure your back and neck emptying a heavy trash can at your office-cleaning job. You are evaluated by a doctor for the company who restricts you to light-duty work, which your employer cannot accommodate. The workers’ compensation insurance company for your employer accepts your claim and begins to pay you weekly benefits. While you’re rehabbing for your injury with physical therapy, after three months at home, you’re chomping at the bit to get out for a few hours each day. You know you’re not ready to go back to your cleaning job because it requires too much lifting and bending. You have done some driving since you injured yourself — to your physical therapy facility, to the grocery store, and to visit family members — and you have been able to tolerate it. You think that you could drive for Uber or Lyft, at least part-time. You discuss it with your doctor, and she clears you for four hours a day. You apply for a position with Uber and are hired. You start the following week.
So how will this affect your workers’ comp. claim? First, you are required to notify the workers’ comp. insurance company about your return to work for Uber and supply them with documentation of your earnings. If you are represented, your lawyer will advise the insurance company.
Your working for Uber will cause a reduction in your workers’ comp. benefits. Let’s suppose that you were earning $640.00 per week doing your cleaning job. You would be entitled to $524.50 per week in workers’ comp. benefits. These are characterized as “total disability” benefits because you are not working and therefore considered totally disabled. If you start to earn money for Uber, you are entitled to “partial disability” benefits because you are only partially disabled. If you earn $250.00 per week for Uber, then your workers’ comp. benefits would be reduced to $260.00 per week. This is calculated by taking your weekly earnings at the cleaning job ($640.00), less your weekly earnings for Uber ($250.00), multiplied by 2/3: $640.00 – $250.00 equals $390.00 x 2/3 equals $260.00. Undoubtedly, there will be some variation in your Uber earnings, and this formula would apply to calculate how much you are entitled to in workers’ comp. benefits each week.
The more money you make driving for Uber, the less your workers’ comp. check will be each week.
The insurance company will likely file a document called a Notification of Modification, informing you formally that your benefits will be modified, or reduced. You would have 20 days to challenge this notification. If things are going fine for you at Uber, there is no need to file a challenge. However, let’s say that after two weeks of driving for Uber, you are forced to stop because all the turning of your neck each day increases your pain. You or your lawyer should file a challenge to the Notification of Modification, and if it’s done within 20 days, a Workers’ Compensation Judge will grant your challenge and reinstate your total disability benefits.
It’s dicier if you stop working more than 20 days after the Notification is filed because it will be too late to file a challenge. The insurance company will not be required to reinstate you to total disability benefits, and you will probably need to file a petition to get your benefits reinstated to the higher rate.
Now let’s change up the facts. Instead of restricting you to light-duty work, the company doctor claims that you are able to do your full-duty cleaning job even though you know that you cannot. On that basis, your workers’ comp. claim is denied. You will need a lawyer to file a Claim Petition on your behalf to collect workers’ comp. benefits. Your case will be heard by a Workers’ Compensation Judge.
Under these circumstances, if you drive for Uber or Lyft, not only because you’re stir- crazy at home but because you need money, the insurance company is still entitled to be notified. If the Judge decides the case in your favor, you will be awarded total disability benefits for the weeks that you did not work, and partial disability benefits for each week that you earned money for Uber. Furthermore, keep in mind that returning to work while your claim is pending could help your chances of winning your case because Judges generally have a favorable impression of injured workers who make an effort to work.
These principles apply if you return to work at any job — not just Uber or Lyft. So if you take a part-time job as a cashier at a store, you will still have to notify the insurance company, and they will be able to reduce your benefits based on your earnings.
No workers’ comp. case is a walk in the park — we can assure you that the insurance company will always fight you hard. If you injure yourself at work and are considering taking a job with a ride-sharing company or another job, or you’re too injured to work at all, it’s critical that you have a lawyer on your side with experience and expertise in workers’ compensation law. At Pearson Koutcher Law, workers’ comp. is all we do. Please call us for a free, comprehensive consultation.