Workers’ Compensation is a program designed to compensate workers that are injured because of job-related activities or the job environment. The compensation covers several areas of expense.
- Medical Treatment – This includes emergency care and follow-up treatment, as well as any required rehabilitation and corresponding transportation costs.
- Lost Wages – Compensation for your lost working time is usually reimbursed at two-thirds of the average weekly earnings for up to two years.
- Further Compensation – Situations such as a permanent impairment, retraining costs (if you can no longer perform your current job), or death benefits in case of fatality will increase the compensation to you (or in the last case, to your dependents).
Workers’ compensation laws vary by state, so the details on receiving compensation vary. Your state workers’ compensation office or similar organization can supply you with the correct laws and procedures for your state. In general, you will need to take the following steps.
- Notify Your Employer – The first step is to notify your employer as soon as possible. Deadlines vary by state, but you usually have at least thirty days from the date of injury to notify your employer. The notification should be in writing and contain all relevant details about the cause of the injury.
Even if you have extra time, it is wise to report the injury immediately. If you decide that the injury is not so bad and go home only to find swelling or stiffness the next day, it may be hard for you to prove that the claim is work-related.
Obviously, if your injury requires medical attention, you must take care of that first.
- Seek An Attorney – You may not need an attorney for simple workers’ compensation cases, but it is generally useful to consult with one. They will be familiar with the laws in your state, and most provide a free initial consultation.
- File a Claim – Generally, you will need to fill out claims paperwork with your employer, who will then forward the paperwork to the insurance company for processing. Depending on your state, you may also have to file separate paperwork with the workers' compensation office.
The claim may require an independent medical exam to verify the injury, typically from a doctor chosen by the employer. In some states and in certain circumstances, you may have the right to have your own doctor perform the examination. Be prepared to ask questions if you do not understand the purpose of any part of the examination.
Assuming the claim goes smoothly, you should receive any benefits for lost wages after a short waiting period (usually one week). Compensation for medical expenses should also be dealt with at this time.
If there are any issues with your claim or your benefits are denied, you may need to follow up with an attorney and/or your state workers’ compensation office to resolve the dispute. Your options depend on the facts of your case and the applicable state laws.
There are exceptions by state, but the workers’ compensation laws cover most full-time and part-time employees. Examples of those exempted are some commission-based employees such as real-estate agents, and those covered under other systems (such as government employees).
We hope that you never need to know the mechanics of a workers’ compensation claim – but if you do, it is important to know and follow the procedures in your state. Contact your state workers’ compensation office or seek legal advice if you are unsure of what to do. Your road to recovery is too important to just wing it.