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Can Correctional Officers Collect Workers’ Compensation?

December 21, 2020

Correctional officers perform a dangerous, yet essential, job. Inside correctional facilities, they supervise the activities of inmates to make sure rules are obeyed, check for contraband, enforce security to prevent escape, provide rehabilitation and counseling, and oversee sanitary standards in jails and prisons. Outside of these facilities, they are responsible for escorting inmates to and from trial, supervising people who have been arrested, and transferring prisoners between facilities.

What Injuries Occur at Correctional Facilities?

The job of correctional officer is a difficult one. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers and jailers have one of the highest rates of injury and illness after police officers and security guards. Workplace injuries are a constant risk, both from the commonplace safety hazards present in any work environment and from dealing with inmates with histories of mental illness, substance abuse, and violence every day as part of their job. Workers are needed around the clock in a correctional facility, which means this stressful job is performed as shift work, another factor in some chronic illnesses. Common injuries and illnesses experienced by correctional officers include:

  • Bruises
  • Head injuries or broken bones from falls
  • Knife or stab wounds from altercations with inmates
  • Lacerations and Cuts
  • Stress-related illnesses, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease
  • Infectious diseases transmitted by bodily fluids
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Which Types of Benefits are Available for Correctional Officers?

There are many different types of correctional facilities throughout the state of New Jersey. Whether the facility is private or run by the county, state, or federal government, correctional officers have a right to workers’ compensation benefits. In New Jersey, the types of benefits available are as follows:

Medical benefits: Covers all necessary and reasonable treatment of a work injury, as well as hospitalization and prescriptions

Temporary Total Disability: For workers unable to work for more than seven days and under medical care, wage loss benefits at a rate of 70 percent of their average weekly wage will be paid.

Permanent Partial Disability: For workers who experience a partial permanent disability, there is a schedule of losses, such an arm, hand, fingers, legs, feet, toes, eyes, ears, or teeth. Benefits are based on a percentage of scheduled or non-scheduled losses. A non-scheduled loss is one not specifically identified in the schedule and can be an area or system such as the back, heart, or lungs. These benefits are paid weekly and begin after temporary disability ends.

Permanent Total Disability: When a work injury makes it impossible for an employee to return to any type of gainful employment, they may receive weekly permanent total benefits for an initial 450 weeks. If after 450 weeks the employee can show that they are still unable to work, the benefits may continue. These benefits are also awarded in cases where a worker has a combination of injuries that make returning to work impossible, such as the loss of two major members of the body.

Death benefits: Dependents of workers who die as a result of their employment may receive death benefits in weekly payments equal to 70 percent of the weekly wage of the deceased worker. Children with physical or mental disabilities may be eligible for further benefits. Funeral expenses up to $3,500 must be paid by the employer or its insurance carrier.

State workers with a permanent disability may have complications with workers’ compensation benefits if they are in line for a disability pension. Always consult with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for help resolving questions regarding eligibility.

Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Anyone injured in a work-related accident should report the incident as soon as possible to their employer. This can be done with anyone in authority, such as a supervisor, manager, or personnel office. Although it is not required to do so in writing, it is recommended to keep written records of everything related to a workers’ compensation claim. By law, a work injury must be reported within 90 days of the accident. If medical care is necessary for a work injury, New Jersey law gives employers the right to select the physician treating the injury.

In New Jersey, there is also a statute of limitations of two years for filing a claim for benefits. The two years starts from the date of injury. It is not required that a lawyer file the claim but using an experienced lawyer who is familiar with the workers’ compensation system can be helpful for many reasons. A knowledgeable lawyer will:

  • Know all the deadlines for filing required paperwork
  • Help build a strong case by gathering the necessary evidence
  • Be familiar with the different types of benefits
  • Know how to calculate average weekly wages
  • Recognize whether a settlement being offered is fair and to one’s advantage

Preventing Work Injuries in Correctional Facilities

Research conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) shows that there are programs and policies that correctional facilities can employ to improve the safety and wellness of their officers. Identifying the factors that contribute to fatal and nonfatal workplace injuries, poor health, and mental health issues can help protect officers from risky and dangerous situations, as well as prevent burnout and turnover.

NIJ researchers also reported on how correctional officers perceive their own risk of injury. The majority of officers surveyed judged their entire work environment to be dangerous and many felt physically threatened by not only inmates but also co-workers. Women, non-white officers, and officers working for longer time periods perceived additional risk, which could negatively impact how they manage the inmates they are supervising and increase hostile interactions. The following policies have been recommended by the NIJ to help reduce work injuries and illnesses for correctional officers:

  • Identifying problematic inmates during intake procedures
  • Separating gang members
  • Sending back up to officers dealing with known troublemakers
  • Training in mediation and de-escalation tactics
  • Ensuring adequate levels of staffing to avoid fatigue
  • Providing therapy to offenders with mental disorders
  • Providing critical incident stress-reduction units to debrief and counsel officers who experience on the job trauma, such as riots, hostage takeovers, or the murder of an inmate or co-workers
  • Introducing peer-support programs that provide emotional and social support to those experiencing trauma

South Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP Fight for the Rights of Injured Workers

If you have been injured on the job and have questions about workers’ compensation, contact the South Jersey workers’ compensation lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP. We are focused exclusively on helping injured workers in New Jersey obtain the benefits they deserve. For a free consultation, call 856-761-3773 or complete our online contact form. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we assist injured workers throughout South Jersey, including Camden, Cinnaminson, Delran, Maple Shade, and Pennsauken.

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