Workers' Compensation Basics
Employees who are injured on the job are eligible to collect workers' compensation benefits while they recuperate. Although the claim process is intended to be straightforward, there are specific guidelines for determining whether a certain injury or illness qualifies for compensation, and certain procedures must be followed in order to file a proper claim. This section provides resources to help you understand the basics of workers' compensation law and to help you begin the claim process. You’ll also find articles discussing work-related injuries, articles explaining your rights as an injured worker, and information to help you decide whether hiring an attorney to represent you would be a good idea.
The Purpose of Workers' Compensation
Workers' compensation is a form of employer insurance that's meant to provide injured employees with an efficient and quick way to receive money for work-related injuries. Note that it's usually irrelevant whether the employee or the employer was at fault for causing the injury; if the employee was injured while on the job, then he or she can file a claim for workers' compensation benefits (subject to a few exceptions that are discussed below). Because an injured worker and his or her family can experience sudden hardship caused by the unexpected loss of income, workers' compensation benefits are intended to provide injured workers with a way to pay bills and medical costs during the recovery period. The system involves a trade-off: Injured workers receive payments quickly, but these payments are capped. An employer is protected from lawsuits, but must provide benefits to injured workers (through workers' compensation insurance) even if the employer wasn't at fault.
Set Payment Amounts
It's important to keep in mind that workers' compensation benefits are typically capped by law, with the payment amount decreasing over time as the employee heals and begins to resume his or her job duties.
Types of Injuries
Common injuries include hurting one's back in a fall or from lifting heavy objects, burns or respiratory ailments related to the use of chemicals, and injuries from traffic accidents. Also, workers who suffer injury from repetitive motions (for example, a wrist injury caused by typing) can usually file for workers' compensation, and some stress-related injuries may be covered. Keep in mind that workers' compensation insurance generally covers all injuries incurred during the performance of job duties, including injuries that occur at an off-site location (for example, during business travel). However, injuries that are caused by employee misconduct, injuries that occur outside the scope of work, and injuries caused by "acts of God" are not covered.
Workers' compensation benefits pay costs associated with medical care, lost wages, and retraining if the injury forces the employee to seek a new position or line of work. Note that workers' compensation payments don't account for any pain and suffering that the injured employee might experience.
Workers' Compensation vs. Civil Lawsuit
If the injury is caused by the employer's purposeful disregard for employee safety, the injured worker can usually choose to file a lawsuit rather than proceed with a workers' compensation claim. If the employee is successful in the lawsuit, he or she might recover more money than through a workers' compensation claim, and he or she may be able to seek attorney's fees and punitive damages.
How an Attorney Can Help
Although workers' compensation laws are meant to provide injured workers with fast relief, the claim process can nonetheless be complicated and involve time-sensitive deadlines and a great deal of paperwork. If you've been injured at work and want to file a claim as soon as possible, an attorney can help. This section provides a link for injured employees to consult with an attorney who specializes in workers' compensation law.