Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues the annual mileage rates, and like clockwork, the IRS has released the updated rates for 2019. This year the mileage rate has increased from 54.5 cents per mile to 58 cents per mile, which reflects a 6.42 percent increase from 2018. A review of the mileage rates from 1997 to present show rates as low as 31 cents (1999) and as high as 58.5 center (July to December 2008). The rate has only exceeded the 58 cent 2019 rate on one occasion, and it was only a temporary, mid-year adjustment.
So, what does the mileage rate increase mean for Connecticut workers’ compensation? Higher mileage reimbursements for claimants who submit expenditure requests pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 31-312. C.G.S. Section 31-312 governs compensation for lost time during and expense of medical treatment, as well as reimbursement of wages due to appearance at informal hearings. Transportation and mileage to/from medical appointments and attendance of medical appointments during normal work hours also fall within this section.
While the statute is clear, here are some common questions and answers regarding application of Section 31-312:
- If the claimant attends a medical appointment or hearing, do the respondents have to pay for parking? YES.
- If the claimant uses a taxi, Lyft, or Uber to attend a medical appointment or informal hearing, do the respondents have to reimburse the transportation cost? YES.
- Claimants are entitled to cost of transportation or to be provided the transportation itself. This means that the claimant can elect to drive his/her own vehicle and submit a mileage expenditure reimbursement request or he/she can utilize a livery service and submit the receipt.
- What if the claimant does not have a vehicle? For medical appointments, the claimant can request transportation to be arranged and paid for by the respondents.
- Can the claimant seek mileage and/or transportation to a Respondent’s Medical Exam (RME) or Commissioner’s Medical Exam (CME)? YES.
- The fact that these medical appointments are arranged by the respondents or Commissioner has no bearing on transportation and mileage reimbursement. The respondents must still provide transportation or reimburse mileage.
- Does a claimant who leaves work to attend a medical appointment and then comes back get reimbursed and/or compensated? YES.
- In this scenario, the claimant would receive compensation “at the rate of such employee’s average earnings, but not less than at the minimum wage established by law” for the period missed from work to attend the medical appointment. There are differing views on whether normal wages means the claimant’s actual earned wages or a pro rata share of the base compensation rate. Typically, the Employer pays the claimant’s regular wages, which is a taxable event. That said, the Commissioner does not care how or who pays, as long as it is paid. Please note there are limits to this compensation when the claimant is also receiving workers’ compensation benefits, as the claimant cannot receive more than his base compensation rate in any given week.
- If the claimant seeks medical attention outside his regular working hours, is the claimant entitled to be compensated for this time? SOMETIMES.
- A claimant who is attending medical appointments outside of regular working hours and not receiving any other weekly compensation benefits is entitled to compensation for the time involved for the medical appointment, as though it were lost time from the job at the “rate of the employee’s average hourly earnings.” That said, if the claimant is receiving total incapacity benefits, partial incapacity benefits, or permanency benefits, then he is not entitled to additional compensation for the appointment. Essentially, a claimant would need to be working his/her regular, full duty job and not receiving any other workers’ compensation benefits.
Some of these examples are expressly addressed in the statute. However, others have been addressed and litigated through case law. The moral of the story is that when a claimant seeks compensation for attending a medical appointment, attending an informal hearing, mileage reimbursement, or transportation, a Commissioner will recommend it.