The whole idea behind Workers’ Compensation was not to help injured workers. It was to protect companies from being sued by workers who had been injured! This explains why the system works so badly.
Workers can help themselves by knowing about their rights and what to do if they are injured. Many workers lose benefits because the company makes it difficult to file a claim or lies, or because the worker misses deadlines.
The basic Workers’ Comp laws are similar for every state, but each state has different rules about eligibility, the amount of benefits, and how to file claims. You have a right to medical care. Workers’ Comp should pay all of your medical bills, including doctors, hospitals, physical therapy, chiropractors, home care, and equipment. Workers Comp pays for the time you miss work because of your injury or illness. A Workers' Comp check is not as much as your regular pay. Family members of workers who die because of a work injury or illness can usually get Workers’ Comp benefits.
Most workers are covered by Workers’ Comp – including undocumented workers. The easiest way to tell if you are covered is by looking for a posting at your workplace. People who work at sea or in a harbor, railroad workers, federal workers, and independent contractors are not covered. Each state also decides if certain jobs are covered so, if your boss has fewer than 5 employees, if you are a farm worker, a domestic worker, or a volunteer, you should check with the state Workers’ Comp agency to see if you are covered.
Workers who do not have a green card or authorization to work in the United States are covered by Workers’ Comp. You will not be asked to show a green card and the Workers’ Comp office does not make reports to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When am I covered by Workers' Comp?
You are covered for Workers’ Comp when you are working, or if you are doing something that your boss told you to do or that benefits your boss. If you are hurt in an area that your boss has control over (like a break area or parking lot) you are usually covered. If you are commuting to work, you are usually not covered.
Workers’ Comp covers most injuries and illnesses that are caused by work. Injuries can happen all at once, like a cut or fall. They can also happen over time, like muscle strain from moving heavy things or repetitive motion injuries (like carpal tunnel in your wrists) from doing the same motion over and over. Illnesses caused by exposure to something at work are covered.
It also covers a pre-existing condition, when it gets worse because of something at work. You can collect benefits even if you were careless and usually even if it was your fault. You might not get benefits if you were drunk or fighting or if your boss can prove that you hurt yourself on purpose. If using drugs causes the injury you may not be eligible. Drug use does not always mean that you can’t get benefits. You should check with a lawyer. Some bosses automatically test for drugs if there is an injury - even if it’s not the worker’s fault. Some workers wait a few days to report the injury if they’re worried about the drug test.
Even if your boss says that your injury is not covered, check with a lawyer.
Should I hire a lawyer? Workers’ Comp claims are one time that you may need to hire a lawyer and it may be worth it. Contact a local injured workers’ group, a local union, or the Central Labor Council for recommendations. Workers’ Comp lawyers should work for a percentage of the award, which means that if they take your case, they think they can win. They should not ask you to pay any money up front.
What if my boss fires me for filing for Workers’ Comp? Ask the Workers’ Comp office about your state’s laws that bosses can’t retaliate against a worker for filing a workers’ comp claim. Remember -- if you don’t file a workers comp claim and your injury makes it hard for you to do your job, your boss can fire you and you won’t even have proof of your work injury. You will have missed the deadline to file a claim and you may have a harder time finding a new job because of the injury.
Can I sue my boss? Just because you can’t sue your boss for work related injuries, doesn’t mean you can’t sue in some special circumstances. If your boss doesn’t have Workers’ Comp coverage, you may be able to sue. If you are injured because of defective equipment or machinery you may be able to sue the manufacturer. In some states, you can sue if you are fired for filing a Workers’ Comp claim or for testifying in support of someone else’s claim.