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School Employee Injuries

Illinois Educators & Worker's Compensation

August 2013

Last week, an elementary school bookkeeper in Decatur, Georgia, saved a school of 800 students from an armed intruder. An event that may have turned into another Sandy Hook was diverted by the book-keeper, who talked the gunman into putting down his weapons and turning himself into police.

Each day, teachers, administrators, and other school employees face the possibility of violence in their schools and classrooms, although injuries are usually inflicted by students, rather than school intruders. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 7% of the nation's teachers are threatened with injury each year; and 3% (127,500) are physically attacked by a student.

Termed "teacher victimization," the cost of threats and attacks are both obvious and hidden. According to the APA, these cost include:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost days of work (about 927,000 per year)
  • Replacement of teachers leaving the school or profession prematurely
  • Lost instructional time
  • Medical and psychological treatment
  • Student disciplinary proceedings involving school, police, judicial systems, social services & parents
  • Increased workers' compensation claims

While little research exists on precursors to student violence, the APA believes some situations can trigger disruption and rage, including a breakup with a boy/girl-friend, parent divorce, death of a family member or friend, public humiliation, exposure to violence or gang conflict, abuse, economic or academic stress, strained teacher-student relationship, and such physical factors as sleep deprivation and hunger.

Teachers who are threatened by a student should under-stand that they are not alone and are not at fault. This is a traumatic event, and it is normal to be upset. In addition to reporting the incident to the appropriate school admini-strator, seek support from coworkers, family, and friends and seek help from a mental health professional, if needed.

Non-Violent School Employee Injuries

Like employees in any other profession, school staff also are also at risk for non-violent accidental injury and work-related illnesses. Common employee injuries include falls on slippery tile floors and stairs, trips over classroom furnishings, and leg and back injuries from years of prolonged standing.

Gym teachers and coaches are at heightened risk for acute on-the-job injuries: broken noses from being hit in the face with balls and other flying equipment; concussions or falls from collisions with running students; and, sprains, strains, and breaks from trips over equipment or on uneven playing fields. In addition to acute injuries, PE teachers and coaches are also at increased risk of repetitive stress injuries to the joints from years of work-related physical activity.

Calculating Worker's Compensation for School Staff

Generally, the amount of compensation a worker in Illinois is entitled to receive in workers' compensation disability benefits is based upon the average weekly salary that he or she received during the prior year. This is usually computed using simply math: a person's total annual salary, divided over a 52-week period.

However, teachers and other school employees are a unique group. With summer vacation and winter and spring breaks, they rarely work 52 weeks out of the year. An average educational work calendar is more likely to be about 42 weeks per year. The Illinois Supreme Court has established that an injured school employee should receive compensation based upon the number of weeks actually worked, rather than the number of weeks in a calendar year.

Instead of dividing the annual salary by 52, the employee's annual salary should be divided by 42 weeks (or the number of weeks in the school year). This results in a higher weekly average, which is then used as the basis for determining work comp benefits. Ultimately, this results in higher benefit payments for the school employee.

The first step in obtaining compensation for medical bills or lost work time is immediately reporting your work-related injury. For school employees, this may involve going to the school nurse, who will make a report of the injury and file it the teacher's file. If the injury is more serious—beyond a bump or minor cut—the school employee should also visit his or her doctor or, if needed, the emergency room.

Some injuries may require extended time off from work. This paperwork must be filed quickly—as some school districts' Boards of Education have strict time limits on worker's compensation paperwork. Because of these constraints, it is best to contact your attorney at Styka & Styka, at 312-357-8000 as soon after a work-related accident as possible.

If you believe you suffer from a work-related repetitive stress or other cumulative injury, contact our office for advice as to how to proceed with your district's administration. We can help you understand your options and the steps required to receive full compensation for this or any other work-related injury.

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