Case brings new light, more money to district workers' compensation claims

Teachers get hurt at work just like other people do, but a recent workers’ compensation case reveals that school districts have been underpaying teachers when they miss time from work after an injury. The underpayments have occurred because of the manner in which the school districts have calculated teachers’ pay. In the past, the districts have calculated lost-time pay by dividing the teacher’s contractual salary by 52 to reach an “average weekly wage.” By law, the teacher was then paid two-thirds of the average weekly wage for time off work. But in a recent Missouri workers’ compensation case, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission determined that a teacher’s average weekly wage cannot be obtained by dividing the teacher’s pay by a factor of 52 because teachers generally do not work 52 weeks per year. So if their wages are divided by 52, then the teacher's weekly wage is artificially lowered.

The pay for most teachers is based upon work for a specified number of days, which is usually laid out in their contracts. For instance, a teacher could be paid a salary of $40,420 per year, based upon a 188 day school year. Under the old calculation, the school district would divide the $40,420 by 52, resulting in an average weekly wage of $777.31. Then the district would take two-thirds of that figure, yielding a rate of $518.21, which was the amount paid to the teacher per week for time off of work.

Under the new calculation, the school district has to divide the $40,420 salary not by 52, but by the 188 days worked. This equation yields an average daily wage of $215, which when multiplied by 5 (work days per week) yields an average weekly wage of $1,075. Two-thirds of that figure yields $716.67, which is the amount paid to the teacher per week for time off work.

When comparing these two different methods of calculation, you can see that the method used by school districts has shortchanged the teacher by $198.46 every week he or she is off work.

All teachers and other school employees who work during a school year are entitled to have their benefits calculated this way. In short, it is simply unfair for a nine-month employee to have his or her lost-time benefits calculated as if he or she earned those wages over a period of 12 months. To their credit, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission recognized this injustice and corrected it. The case was pursued by attorneys Dean Christianson and Colleen Vetter of the law firm of Schuchat, Cook & Werner in St. Louis. The decision is available online by going to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Workers’ Compensation Decisions page and opening the Nancy Brunner 5-20-09 decision.  If you have questions concerning the decision, contact Schuchat, Cook & Werner at (888) 365-0445.

By Jacquie Shipma, former director of legal services