Public assistance benefits paid to participants in a New York work experience program (WEP) are “wages,” as that term is defined in the state’s Workers’ Compensation Law [N.Y. Workers’ Comp. Law § 2(9)], held a state appellate court [Matter of Covert v Niagara County, 2019 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3888 (3d Dept., May 16, 2019)]. Accordingly, where a law judge found that an individual, who sustained injury while assigned to work for as part of a county WEP, had sustained a 7.5 percent loss of use injury, entitling her to 18.3 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits, it was appropriate to compute the award based on her “earnings” within the WEP.
County’s Argument: No Wages
Niagara County argued, inter alia, that the amount of assistance that the WEP benefits could not be considered “wages,” since the amount of WEP benefits received by the participant was not determined by the number of hours worked. The Court countered that indeed, while that was true, nevertheless, the number of hours that a recipient of public assistance was required to participate in a WEP was determined by dividing the amount of assistance received by the higher of the federal or state minimum wage.
Contrary Decision Might Preclude Any Recovery for “Worker”
The Court also stressed that the fact that recipients of public assistance must participate in a WEP to receive benefits without reduction meant that the public assistance paid to WEP participants directly served as compensation for the work performed. Accordingly, the Court concluded that public assistance benefits were wages as defined in the Workers’ Compensation Law.
The Court added that a contrary determination would inequitably preclude compensation for such injuries or relegate the injured participant to a tort claim. Likewise, providing effective awards for injured participants also benefited those who host WEP participants, by ensuring that workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy for injuries sustained in the workplace.