Workers' compensation benefits are available to employees who have been injured on the job or suffered a work-related illness. In order to receive benefits, you have to report the injury to your employer and file your claim within strict time limits. Each state sets its own deadlines—check with your state's labor department (or similar agency that handles workers' comp) to learn the rules in your state.
Below we'll take a look at some of the most common workers' comp deadlines you need to know.
In order to qualify for workers' comp, you must report your workplace injury or illness to your employer promptly. Some states simply require that you give this notice immediately or as soon as practical, but most states give a more specific deadline, usually within 10 to 90 days.
Written notification is not necessarily required, but is generally a good idea in case a dispute arises. In your report, make it clear that you were hurt on the job or experienced an occupational illness. Whether you report your injury orally or in writing, ask your employer for written acknowledgment that you've reported the injury.
Once you've notified your employer of the illness or injury, the next step is to file a workers' comp claim with the state workers' comp agency. (Your employer may take care of this step in some states.)
How long do you have to file a claim? In most states the deadlines range from one to three years after the injury, but some states allow more time. If you employer provided some medical benefits before you filed a claim, the time period for filing may not start until those benefits stop.
Many states include a few limited exceptions to the time limits for filing claims, including when the injured employee couldn't file a claim right away because:
If you're a federal worker, you have up to three years after your injury to file a workers' comp claim. If you miss that deadline, compensation may still be allowed if you gave written notice of the injury (or the immediately supervisor knew about it) within 30 days.
Of course, as with all workers' comp claims, the sooner you file, the better.
The deadline for filing a workers' comp claim is sometimes longer for occupational diseases (illnesses that result from workplace conditions) or cumulative trauma (injuries that develop over time from work activities, such as repetitive strain or stress injuries).
State laws usually require that you report the illness within a certain period of time after the last "injurious exposure" (such as exposure to asbestos) or after you first learned that your condition could be employment-related.
For example, in California you generally must file your claim within one year of the date of injury. But for occupational diseases or cumulative injuries, the injury date is when you first experienced disability (often when you missed work or had to get medical treatment) and you knew or should've known it was caused by work.
Don't hesitate to file a claim even if your workplace injury seems mild or moderate at first. It could get worse later, as often happens with back conditions. If you file a claim and the condition improves on its own, the claim will simply close—no harm done. But if you wait to file, you could lose the chance to get workers' comp benefits after it gets worse and you realize that you need to miss work and get medical treatment.
If you had a previous workers' comp claim that was closed, but your medical condition has worsened, you have a certain period of time (often three to five years) to request that your claim be reopened in order to start receiving benefits again.
There are also deadlines for submitting bills to your employer for coverage of medical treatment, so make sure your doctor knows you're receiving treatment under a workers' comp claim. Your doctor will then be able to correctly bill your employer or its workers' compensation insurance carrier.
If you're having trouble finding out the filing deadlines in your state or you need help filing a claim, contact an experienced workers' comp attorney. Hiring an attorney will ensure that you meet your state's strict deadlines and maximize your chances of receiving benefits.
In addition, if your employer has told you that you are too late to file a workers' comp claim, you should consult with an attorney to find out whether there are any exceptions to the deadlines or legal alternatives to pursuing workers' comp benefits.