Work Injuries and Workers’ Compensation

I was a craftsman for 38 years until I was injured at work. I’ve had 3 shoulder surgeries and am having both wrists fused this year.

Am I immoral to receive unearned money from workmen’s compensation? I am referring to the Bible that a man that doesn’t work should not eat. I try to help my wife as much as I can to try to keep some form of value. I just don’t feel like I earned my existence even though I receive a good amount of money. I worked about 60 hours a week before.


Dear James,

Sounds like you are going through a difficult physical challenge with altogether expected spiritual challenges too. We wish you easy surgeries, a swift recovery, and a restoration of your sense of personal value.

The  verse to which you refer is not found  in the Hebrew  Scriptures, which is all we are competent to discuss. While working is an essential part of God’s plan for humans, the idea of abandoning the elderly or ill is definitely not part of His vision.

To our knowledge, workmen’s compensation is something that you earned through your years of work. As part of your employment agreement, premiums were paid to the insuring entity on your behalf.  It was, in effect, a mandatory savings/insurance plan that you are now drawing on. There is nothing immoral about benefiting from advance planning or any similar arrangement of this kind.

At the same time, we do think that, for your own psychic health, you definitely do need to know that you are productive. It is too easy to slip into acceptance of one’s limitations and just stagnating where you are now.  Helping your wife is something we hope you did for all the years of your marriage. Maybe you have more time to do so now, but that is not going to feed your spirit.

You need to find something that you can do given the limitations of movement and recovery period needed for each surgery, time for physical therapy, etc. The first step is in your mind. You must break out of your previously understood definition of your own skills and talents even if applying new thinking needs to wait until you are physically stable.

We would like to give you two examples. I (Susan) just read a biography of Virginia Hall. If you have never heard of her, neither had I before I read this book. She was an American spy during World War II, working for British Special Operations. Her exploits on the ground in Europe against the Nazis are breathtaking, but what makes the entire story even more unbelievable is that she had one leg amputated as a young woman due to a shooting accident. 

Here is example number 2. Our son took boxing lessons when he was about eleven. His instructor, the amazing Bob Jarvis of Seattle, had been a promising boxer when he lost both legs and his left arm during a construction accident on the I-90 freeway about fifteen years earlier.  No longer able to work in construction and obviously no longer able to pursue his semi-professional boxing career, he transformed himself into a boxing coach.  And what a coach he was.  Neither our son nor I (RDL)  have forgotten how he turned our young son into a reasonably competent boxer. It was amazing to watch him in the ring inspiring and instructing his young student. Just think: how does a man without a left arm teach a novice to throw a left jab?  But Bob did just that.   With two artificial legs and one mechanical arm he became one of the most sought after boxing instructors in Western Washington.   He was not only an outstanding boxing instructor but, in addition, his very presence served as  an example of manhood, resilience and courage.

We aren’t suggesting that you join the CIA or take up boxing. However, you might consider what you have to share with others as an expert craftsmen. Perhaps you can be a mentor to wood-working teachers in schools or offer a homeschooling class. Maybe you need to discover and develop new talents that have nothing to do with woodworking. When someone is ready to pay you for your efforts, you will know that you are being productive.

In conclusion, you should feel perfectly comfortable accepting whatever money is coming your way. At the same time, you should look to the future and to finding a new way of earning a living.  Bob Jarvis didn’t need the income when he became a boxing instructor.  Perhaps you don’t either given your income from Workers’ Compensation. But it is only your body that doesn’t need the work. Your soul needs it desperately.  We can’t wait to hear what you come up with.

Keep us posted,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

6 thoughts on “Work Injuries and Workers’ Compensation”

  1. David Stinnett

    James, I concur with the responses here that you need not feel immoral in any way. Also, the focus on encouraging you to find new outlets for your skills, interests, and talents. Let this situation strengthen your faith in God; remembering that HIs strength is made manifest in our weakness. You have much to contribute. Be blessed.

  2. Believe me, Worker’s Comp is not inexpensive. You made a significant contribution out what you were paid for your labor to the Worker’s Compensation fund. You earned it.

  3. James,
    You have already won most of your battle. I was a recently retired soldier, only 41 years old, healthy and starting a civilian career when a massive stroke leveled me. I had/have a lot of problems including learning to walk again. YOU, James, would not begrudge or think I didn’t deserve disability help, why should you think any different for yourself? I know why because I struggled with that too. RDL is right! Make sure someone else receives all the craftsmanship knowledge you have. Help your wife, I do that too, I love that I can. I just finished my second college degree. This is a time to look to the future, not what you lost. Be strong and a good example to others. You never know who is watching and needs inspiration.

    1. Louis, there is nothing like hearing from someone who has been through the battle and triumphed. Thank you for sharing your experience with James.

  4. Thomas Hammett

    The passage James is referring to is in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, verse 3:10. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” This speaks to those who choose not to work, not to those who cannot work. In any event, as Rabbi Lapin says, if you have a limitation, that just means you should try doing something else.

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