Frequently Asked Questions About Workers Compensation

Injured workers have a right to benefits under the workers' compensation system. Learn the basics here.

Updated by , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

Below you'll find the answers to some of the most common questions about workers' compensation benefits, on topics such as eligibility, medical treatment, and benefit types.

What is the purpose of the workers' compensation system?

The purpose of workers' comp is to provide cash and other benefits to employees who have experienced a work-related illness or injury. The employee doesn't need to show that the employer was at fault to collect benefits. In exchange, the employee generally isn't allowed to sue the employer for illnesses or injuries that occur at work.

The system is designed to keep costs low for employers while providing swift resolution and guaranteed payments for injured employees.

What should I do if I'm injured at work?

Following an accident at work, it is critical to report the accident to your employer as soon as possible.

The time limits vary from state to state, but your claim will be denied if you don't report the accident to your employer within the required time period.

Even if you don't think you're injured, you should report workplace accidents to your employer.

Sometimes injuries don't become noticeable until after the incident. Report an accident as soon as possible and report injuries as soon as you become aware of them, whether it is at the same time as the accident or later.

Will workers' compensation cover me for work-related illness or injuries that aren't the result of an accident?

Yes, workers' compensation will cover you for work-related injuries such as repetitive motion injuries. One example is carpel tunnel syndrome suffered by workers who do a lot of typing.

Workers can develop a variety of illnesses that are related to their jobs. For example, workers in high stress jobs can develop digestive disorders that are related to the stress they experience on the job.

Workers who are exposed to a lot of car exhaust on the job may suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning or breathing problems.

It really depends on what the particular hazards of the job are, and some people might develop illnesses as a result of them while others do not.

What are the most common types of workers' comp claims?

Some of the most common workers' types of workers' comp claims are for:

  • back injuries
  • slip-and-falls
  • injuries resulting from car accidents or use of heavy machinery
  • falls from ladders
  • carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries, and
  • mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

In recent years many workers have filed workers' comp claims for COVID-19, although such claims are generally only allowed for health care workers and in a few other settings. Check with your state's department of labor to learn the eligibility rules in your state.

Can I still receive workers' compensation benefits if the accident was my fault?

Part of the purpose of the workers' compensation system is to provide benefits to injured workers without the need to prove who was at fault for the accident.

However, there are some instances when a worker won't receive benefits. For instance, a worker won't receive benefits for self-inflicted injuries, those that result from fighting or horseplay, or for injuries that occur when the employee is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

For more on liability issues in a workers' compensation case, read Injury Liability for Workplace Accidents.

Can I choose my own doctor for my workers' comp injury?

The answer depends on the laws of your state and the requirements of your employer's workers' compensation insurance policy. Ask your employer if they require you to see a certain doctor, or if you can choose your own doctor.

If you're required to see a doctor chosen by your employer, you might have the right to change doctors after a certain amount of time has passed, or to get a second opinion. If you go see your own doctor, the insurance company may still require a medical examination by one of its doctors.

What kind of benefits can I receive from workers' compensation?

The type of benefits you're entitled to depends on the nature and extent of your injury and the laws in your state. If your injury prevents you from working for more than a few days, you will receive temporary disability benefits, which are typically two-thirds of your regular wages.

If a workplace accident has left you with permanent damage, you might be entitled to permanent total or (in some states) permanent partial disability benefits.

Workers' compensation also covers the cost of your medical treatment for as long as necessary. You might also receive vocational rehabilitation if needed to help you get back to your job or to train you for a new job.

How much you'll receive depends on the severity of the injury and the laws in your state.

Will I be able to go back to my old job after a workers' comp injury?

If you're able to perform the same type of work after you recover from your injuries, your employer must give you the next position that becomes available, but they don't have to fire the person who replaced you in order to give you your job back.

If you're able to work in some other type of job that your employer has available, they should place you in that position.

Do I need an attorney to help me with my workers' compensation claim?

Depending on the severity of your injury or illness, you might decide that you want an attorney to help you with your workers' compensation claim.

The greater your injuries, the more you have at stake in the workers' compensation process.

If you have been severely injured or think that you'll be disabled for a long time, you should hire an attorney with experience handling workers' compensation claims to make sure you get all of the benefits to which you are entitled.

If you're considering settling your workers compensation claim, you should talk to a lawyer before taking any action.

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