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Most public employees are covered by the workers’ compensation systems in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (A notable exception being police and firefighters in Massachusetts, who are covered by a separate compensation system.) In addition, most public employees in both states are also protected by a Public Employee Retirement system, which includes an Accidental Disability Retirement (ADR) benefit for those employees who, while performing their jobs, suffer injuries that permanently disable them from performing the essential functions of their jobs. This is an extremely valuable and well-deserved benefit for our hard-working and dedicated public sector employees.
For the purpose of brevity, the rest of this discussion, unless otherwise noted, addresses only the Massachusetts ADR system. There are important distinctions between the Massachusetts and New Hampshire systems in terms of both eligibility and benefits.
Massachusetts ADR pays 72% of an eligible employee’s lost wages, significantly more than the 60%* benefit generally payable by workers’ compensation. For that reason alone, it is a valuable benefit for eligible employees, even though the ADR benefits are reduced dollar-for-dollar for any workers’ compensation benefits paid simultaneously. This “coordination” between ADR and workers’ compensation benefits is an area where the services of an experienced attorney can pay handsome dividends. If handled correctly, in some circumstances the workers’ compensation claim can be resolved in a manner that eliminates the ADR off-set, allowing the employee to settle the workers compensation claim and still collect his or her full ADR benefit.
However, while all covered public employees injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, they are not necessarily entitled to ADR benefits. One limitation on ADR eligibility is that the injury must permanently disable the employee from performing the essential functions of his or her job. Most work-related accidents do not result in injuries severe or permanent enough to support an Accidental Disability Retirement application, so many injured public employees are limited to their workers’ compensation benefits. (The medical portion of the ADR disability analysis rests largely on the findings of a “Medical Panel” consisting of three medical professionals, usually doctors.)
Another limitation to ADR is that the injury itself must occur while the employee is actually in the course of performing job-related duties. This is a much narrower scope of coverage than is provided by workers compensation. This is a very important difference between the two systems, and one that an employee – and his or her attorney - must keep in mind. Often, the line between what is and what is not covered by ADR is very thin and blurry. For example, an employee who trips and falls on her employee’s premises while walking to her lunch break would likely not be covered by ADR. That same employee, if injured while walking to her work station after a bathroom break, likely would be covered.
Given the complexities of ADR and the amount of benefits that are at stake, it is certainly wise for any injured public employee to consult with a qualified law firm before applying for ADR.
*In Massachusetts, workers compensation pays 66 2/3% to injured employees determined to be “permanently and totally disabled.” ADR is still substantially more generous than even this enhanced benefit.
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