Getting injured at work can be scary and overwhelming. Things racing through your mind may include: What do I do first? Do I tell my boss or go to the doctor? What’s going to happen if I can’t return to work for a while? Who will pay my bills?
Fortunately, workers’ compensation insurance is there to cover your medical bills and lost wages in these situations. Laws differ per state, but every state except Texas requires employers to carry workers’ comp insurance. The system of workers’ comp is set up so that your employer will cover any injuries that occur at work, no matter whose fault they were, and in exchange you cannot sue them for your injuries.
The one exception to this rule is illnesses from workplace asbestos exposure; in these cases, a lawsuit is permitted. There is also one exception to being covered by your employers’ insurance – if the injury is sustained while the employee is drunk or high, it is not covered by workers’ comp.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being injured at work, follow the steps below to ensure a less stressful recovery process.
Step 1: Seek Medical Help
Your first step after sustaining an injury is to see a doctor. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to go to the emergency room or just make an appointment with a doctor. If your injury is not too serious, you can report the injury to your employer first before seeking medical attention.
Your employer may choose the doctor for you, depending on their policy. Some workers’ compensation policies also cover the cost of you seeking a second medical opinion, but not always. It still may be worth doing, especially if you don’t trust the diagnosis of the doctor hired by your employer.
Step 2: Report the Injury to Your Employer
The faster that you report your injury, the better. It is required that you report the injury to your employer, otherwise there is no proof for your workers’ compensation claim. For documentation purposes, it’s best to report the incident in writing.
Even if the injury is minor, you should still report it in case your symptoms develop more over time. Similarly, if it is an injury that has been slowly building, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, try and report it as soon as you notice.
If you are a federal employee, you can file a workers’ compensation claim with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).
Step 3: File a Claim with your State
Your employer will most likely give you paperwork to fill out, but you may also need to file a claim with your state. Depending on where the injury occurred, some states have paperwork available online to file a claim. For example in California, you can file a claim online with the Department of Industrial Relations. Your employer should know the proper procedures for your state, but you should double check yourself.
Step 4: Speak to a Lawyer
Your final step should be to contact a workers’ compensation lawyer. They usually offer free consultations, so it can’t hurt to see what type of benefits you qualify for. An attorney can also help you appeal a denied workers’ comp claim, which does happen. The appeals process can be complex, so it’s best to get advice from a professional.