Job-Related Injury & Workers' Compensation - Legal Overview

Learn about your rights to workers' compensation benefits following a workplace injury, and how to protect your claim.

If you get hurt on the job, it is important that you understand your state’s workers’ compensation system. Workers’ compensation (sometimes referred to as “workman’s compensation”) may be your only means of receiving compensation for a work-related injury, so read on to learn the details of how workers' comp works.

Understanding Worker's Compensation

If you suffer a work-related injury or illness, you are probably entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The types of injuries covered by workers’ compensation include physical injuries, illnesses, and some psychological or stress-related injuries. These injuries or illnesses can occur at any time, so long as they are work-related.

Workers’ compensation may be the only means of your recovery for work-related injuries or illness. This means that you cannot initiate a civil lawsuit against your employer. Instead, you must file a claim through your state’s administrative workers’ compensation agency. Most employers are required to pay into the workers’ compensation system by purchasing insurance through the state's workers' compensation fund.

What Benefits Are Included?

Most states' systems will cover the following  workers' compensation benefits:

  • Medical bills.  If you have medical bills, they will be paid for to help you recover from your work-related injuries. However, keep in mind that your choices of doctors may be limited.
  • Temporary disability benefits.  If your injury prevents you from performing your job normally and, as a result, you lose wages, you may receive temporary disability benefits. These payments are usually available only after you miss several days of work.
  • Permanent disability benefits.  If you do not completely recover from you injuries, you may receive permanent disability benefits based upon the nature and extent of your impairment or injury.
  • Death benefits.  If you die from a work-related injury or illness, your spouse or children may receive death benefits.

For a more thorough explanation of available benefits and the amounts, see this page.

Limitations On Benefits

The amount of benefits that you are entitled to receive to compensate you for your work-related injury or illness may be limited by the laws of your state. Each state has its own rules for how an injury should be compensated. Some states have a list that affixes a dollar amount for the type of injury. Other states mandate that compensation is based on a scale or rating of injuries or disabilities.

Protecting Your Claim After an Accident

If you receive a work-related injury or illness, immediately report it to your supervisor. If the injury or illness has gradually worsened over time (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), report it as soon as you think it was caused by your job. If you do not report your injury within a certain amount of time -- usually within 30 days -- you may lose your right to collect the workers’ compensation benefits to which you would otherwise have been entitled.

For more on how to make the accident report to protect a potential injury claim, see this article on making the report.

Returning To Work

When you can return to work after your work-related injury or illness is a difficult question to answer and will depend upon the extent of your injury. Furthermore, a number of people will have input in deciding how soon you can return to work. This list includes your treating doctor, employer, claims administrator, and attorney (if you have one).

If you have not completely recovered from your injury, you may nevertheless be able to return to work with restrictions on the tasks you are assigned to prevent you from aggravating your injury. If you are entirely unable to return to work, you may be entitled to permanent disability benefits.

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