Even when employers make their best efforts to provide a safe and healthy work environment, injuries at work happen. Whether they are physical or psychological injuries, pre-existing conditions that have been aggravated, or occupational illnesses, if you are injured on the job, then you should know your legal rights are and who may be responsible to compensate you for lost wages, medical expenses, and costs associated with rehabilitation and retraining.
Generally speaking, workers’ compensation laws are designed to pay the expenses of employees who are harmed while performing job-related duties. Workers’ compensation is basically an insurance program that the government has made compulsory for employers through premiums charged by the state. The program ensures that employees will not have to pursue litigation to prove their employer was negligent through a risky and uncertain lawsuit. Instead, workers must file a claim with the state agency administering the program.
Each state administers its own worker’s compensation agency, but there are legal rights that are common to all. These rights include the right to file a claim, the right to receive medical treatment, the right to return to your job if your physician releases you to return to work and, if not, the right to some disability compensation.
Additionally, you have the right to appeal any decisions by your employer, their insurance company, or the state workers’ compensation court. You also have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout the process as well.
Employers are prohibited from harassing you or making it difficult for you to exercise your rights to pursue a workers’ compensation claim, and there are harsh penalties that can be imposed if an employer does.
Are You an Employee Who Is Eligible for Workers’ Comp?
Although workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state, every state has a workers’ compensation program that requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which makes partial payments of an employee’s regular wages while they recover from a work-related injury or illness.
Not all workers are covered by state workers’ compensation laws. For example, because independent contractors are not classified as “employees,” they are not entitled to make a workers’ compensation claim. Furthermore, some types of workers, such as domestic workers (housekeepers, nannies, etc.), agricultural workers, seasonal workers, and undocumented workers, generally aren’t covered by workers’ compensation laws.
Federal workers participate in similar programs. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) covers nonmilitary federal employees, the Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA) protects railroad employees from employer negligence, the Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act) protects seamen from employer negligence, certain maritime workers for private employers are provided for under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), and current and former miners are protected under the Black Lung Benefits Act.
What Other Remedies Can Workers Recover From Their Employer?
If your employer does not provide the mandatory workers’ comp coverage for injured workers, they may be subject to fines, criminal charges, and/or lawsuits, potentially including yours.
Sometimes an on-the-job injury may have been caused by a third party’s negligence. For example, the manufacturer of machinery or equipment may have a defective product that caused the injury. These third-party claims may be pursued in a civil lawsuit in state or federal court and may include claims for damages such as pain and suffering.
How to Start a Workers’ Compensation Claim
Apart from seeking medical care immediately if your injury or illness requires it, you first need to report your on-the-job injury to a supervisor, in writing and as soon as possible and often within 30 days. Notifying your employer is the first step in filing a claim. It is important to file the claim form quickly because the employer has no obligations until you have completed the claim form.
Complete the “employee” section of the claim form. Be sure to sign and date the form. Keep a copy of it for your records, then return the form to your employer.
Your employer will then complete the “employer” section and return it to its workers’ compensation insurance company. You should receive a complete copy of the claim form and keep it for your records. The insurance company generally has 14 days to mail you a status letter about your claim.
Should You Hire a Workers’ Comp Attorney?
Employers often dispute a workers’ compensation claim because their premium rates may increase based on the number of claims paid on their behalf. There are many grounds on which an employer might contest a workers’ compensation claim, including that it was not a work-related injury that happened in the scope of the employee’s duties. The employer or its hired physicians may also attempt to minimize the severity of the employee’s injury.
Hiring legal counsel is the best way to protect an injured employee’s rights. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to help you through the process and obtain the maximum amount of money and benefits.