The answer is not a simple yes or no, there is more involved. The first step to receiving workers’ compensation is to report the injury to your employer. This should happen immediately and is not the same as filing a claim. That will come later. Notifying your employer puts the wheels in motion.
What is workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation commonly referred to as “workers’ comp” is a program meant to cover employees who sustain injuries or become disabled in their workplace. The law requires employers to compensate employees when they get injured or disabled. Employers, therefore, purchase workers’ comp insurance to cover their employees from illness, injuries, and disability resulting from places of work irrespective of who is at fault.
The time limits vary, so don’t waste time
Workers’ comp notification and filing deadline requirements vary from state to state. As a general rule, you should notify your employer of all injuries immediately.
Most states have an employment commission that oversees workers’ compensation cases, but in some states, you are at the mercy of your employer and insurance carrier. The only initial course of action is through the workers’ comp system. Unless you use the system, you cannot file a civil claim or sue your employer unless there is evidence that your employer or someone in the company willfully caused your accident.
For example, South Carolina requires notice of injury within 90 days. However, there are many variables there as well. If you have an occupational disease, it is normally 90 days from the date of diagnosis.
The sooner you start the process, the easier it’ll be for you to prove your case and the sooner you will begin receiving the compensation you are eligible to receive. Needless delay of notification to your employer of your injury can result in the insurance carrier disallowing your claim, meaning you won’t get paid or have your medical bills paid.
What to do about moderate injuries?
Even if your injury is mild, notify your employer immediately if you are on the job site. If you are at a distant location, call your employer for instructions. It may seem like a minor injury when you twist your back while lifting, yet these types of injuries often flare up later or become much worse over time. Notify your employer immediately.
How to file a workers’ compensation claim
- Notify your employer of the injury or illness as soon as it occurs by filing a formal notice of injury form with your employer. Include details such as the date, time, place, how it occurred, and witnesses, if any. Depending on state requirements, your employer should report the injury to the insurance carrier and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) or employment commission in your state.
- After you notify your employer of the injury, they may send you to their doctor or allow you to visit a doctor of your choosing, but be sure to ask. You may be out of work for a while so you will want to keep as much money as possible in your pocket.
- Make the doctor aware you intend to file a workers’ comp claim so that he writes a medical report to that effect and submits it to your employer or however it works in your state. Take your medication and doctor’s advice seriously.
- The employer will then report the injury to the WCB within five business days from the day the injury occurred. The WCB will then process and pay your benefits if the claim is accepted.
- If your employer tells you that you did not inform them on time, you should consult an employment law expert or workers’ comp lawyer as soon as possible. Depending on the injury, it is almost never clear cut.
Submit the report on the form provided. If you are unable to go to your employer to file or you are the beneficiary of someone that you believe died of an occupational disease, you can find many of the required forms online. You may have to check by state, such as here.
What if the damage occurs over a long period?
A more complicated situation comes from workplace health issues that are cumulative. At what point does a repetitive motion cause injury? How many exposures to a toxic, disease-causing chemical constitutes a valid workers’ comp claim?
Many states require you to report the problem within a set number of days after the last exposure or from the day of diagnosis. If you have to take off from work because of the problem, state workers’ compensation officials might determine that is when you should have reported the issue to your employer. Report it right after you realize a work situation is making you ill.
What if you’re afraid to report an injury to your employer?
Some employees do not report when they are hurt because they are intimidated by their employer or fear they may be terminated for filing a claim. In most states, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a claim for workers’ comp. However, not all states have such laws. Therefore, if you believe your employer is retaliating against you or did not notify the insurance carrier of your injury or illness as required by law, consult with an attorney immediately.
To protect themselves, employers should encourage you to report all workplace injuries immediately and seek appropriate medical treatment.