I Have a Work-Related Injury: What are My Employer's Responsibilities?
If you've sustained a job-related injury, your employer may be responsible for helping you with lost wages or other accommodations. Most employers are required by laws in each state to carry workers' compensation insurance, which pays a portion of an employee's regular wages while they're recovering from a work-related injury or illness.
However, some types of workers, including independent contractors and railroad workers, aren't covered by these workers' compensation laws. Also, in some rare instances, employees may sue employers in court for injuries resulting from willful violations of safety regulations. Examples would include extreme cases of negligence; a failure to carry the required amount of workers' compensation insurance; and other limited cases.
Is Your Injury Work-Related?
Before you file a claim for workers' compensation or seek other employer-provided relief, make sure your injury truly is work-related, which generally means it happened while you were doing your work duties or something else on behalf of your employer. This may also include company parties, picnics, or other social events sponsored by your employer but not necessarily on company-owned property.
Additionally, your employer's workers' compensation policy may cover job-related injuries even if you were disregarding workplace safety rules (such as "horseplay" on the job). State workers' comp laws, and even courts within some states, are divided on this.
Below are some other considerations when determining whether your injury is work-related, for purposes of workers' compensation claims or other actions:
- An injury that occurred during a lunch break is typically not considered work-related unless it occurs in a company cafeteria or otherwise involves your employer in some way;
- Even if alcohol contributes to an injury, it may still be considered work-related if it occurred during a work-sponsored event such as a holiday party;
- A preexisting condition that is worsened on the job is usually considered work-related;
- Mental conditions are treated the same as physical injuries if they're determined to be sustained on the job or as a result of your job.
Workplace Injury Compensation Coverage
Employers in most states are required to carry workers' compensation insurance, but only workers properly classified as "employees" are covered (as opposed to independent contractors). Also, Idaho and Wyoming do not require coverage of undocumented workers; but Arizona, California, Texas, and other states specifically include illegal immigrant workers in employers' workers' comp coverage.
Depending on your state, certain types of work injury claims may not be covered by workers' comp requirements.
Some examples are listed below:
- Domestic workers (housekeepers, nannies, babysitters)
- Agricultural workers
- Seasonal workers
- Undocumented workers
If you're eligible for workers' comp, you may file a claim for benefits (usually about two-thirds of your regular salary) but you aren't entitled to sue your employer for those same injuries in court. But if your employer fails to provide coverage that's mandated by state law, they may be subject to fines, criminal charges, and/or lawsuits.
When Workers' Comp is Not an Option
Just because you're not eligible for workers' comp benefits does not necessarily mean your employer doesn't have responsibility for your job-related injury. If you're an independent contractor, for example, your contract may mandate the use of arbitration for injuries and other disputes. In some rare cases, such as intentionally inflicted injuries sustained in the workplace, an employee may sue their employer; but that's usually not permitted.
Other alternatives to workers' comp coverage include the following:
- Non-military, federal employees are covered by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act
- The Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA) holds railroads liable for employees' injuries if they are found to be negligent
- The Merchant Marine Act (also called the Jones Act) provides seamen with protections from employer negligence, similar to FELA
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides specialized work injury compensation coverage for certain employees of private maritime employers
- The Black Lung Benefits Act provides compensation for current and former miners suffering from a mining-related disease known as "black lung"
Have a Work-Related Injury? Get a Legal Evaluation Today
Work-related illnesses and injuries may take months or even years to show symptoms, while it's not always simple to determine whether an injury is indeed work-related.
If you have suffered an injury or illness and believe it may be work-related, make sure you get immediate medical attention, but also consider contacting an experienced, local law firm for a review of your claim. They can help you get paid for medical expenses and ongoing medical treatment after your workplace accident.
Contact a qualified workers' compensation attorney to make sure your rights are protected.