In the United States, the private sector reported around 3 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2015. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Mississippi. Workplace injuries are surprisingly common in the U.S., and they often leave workers to wonder what they should do next.
While each case is unique, here are a few things that every worker should consider doing if they have been injured on the job.
Notify your employer in writing. Even if you alert your employer or supervisor verbally, it is still best to follow up with a written statement in which you inform them how you were injured and when the injury occurred. This “formal” documentation is essential to establishing a timeline and, as you will see, it can become very useful for an employee should they be denied benefits.
Seek medical treatment. Many workplace injuries are severe and require emergency medical care. Even if you believe your injury is not an emergency, go to a doctor’s office or hospital for an examination. A worker may not immediately recognize the extent of their injuries. For example, what feels like a small strain might worsen over time and could lead to bigger health problems. A doctor might identify other complications stemming from your injury, and you will have the benefit of further documenting the treatment of your injuries.
If you need time off work, take it. It’s tempting for a worker to “soldier on” after a workplace injury, but now is not the time to put on a brave face. If you don’t allow yourself time for recovery, you could worsen your injury, which would require more time away from work. Follow your doctor’s advice and be patient with the healing process.
Find out what sort of compensation your employer will offer. Most employers are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that provides workers with payment for time off and compensation for medical bills in the event of an on-the-job injury. By filing a workers’ compensation claim, you are not alleging that your employer was at fault. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault program, meaning that your injuries will likely be covered, regardless of who was at fault.
Note: There are some exceptions to workers’ compensation coverage. For example, if your injury occurred because you were impaired by alcohol, you might not be eligible for coverage.
Be prepared for a potential dispute with your employer or their insurance provider. Many employers will offer compensation, the worker will receive payments and everything will work out fine. But, in some cases, an employer will deny a claim or offer less than the employee thinks adequate. No matter what the outcome will be, it is always best to be prepared for that eventuality. Remember how we suggested that you document your injury through written statements and doctor’s office visits? This is the reason why you should keep extensive records. You will have an official paper trail to offer your employer and their insurer. In the event of a dispute, consider contacting an attorney familiar with workers’ compensation claims. They will know how to deal with employers and insurers.
If you aren’t covered by workers’ compensation insurance, then you might still have options. Not all workers have the benefit of being covered. As the workforce in our country is increasingly listed as contractors, or freelancers, coverage is offered to fewer workers than in years past. This does not mean, however, that you are completely without options. You can still file a different type of claim against an employer to receive compensation. You can either file a personal injury claim or you can take legal action to convince the courts that, even though you are classified as an independent contractor, you are, in fact, an employee. A workers’ compensation attorney, sometimes called a workplace injury attorney, will also be useful in this case.
In summary, remember these guiding principles in the event of an on-the-job injury:
- Seek treatment as soon as possible.
- Keep copies of everything, from your written statement regarding your injury to copies of medical costs you encounter.
- Don’t force yourself to return to work before you are clearly able to do so.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for legal help from an attorney after suffering an injury.
Employers are generally willing to comply with requests and happy to work with their employees to make sure they are healthy, but that is not always the case. Employers, or their insurers, might also dispute a claim to minimize their payments.
Most importantly, do what is best for your health. By forcing yourself back to work before you are ready, you could make things significantly worse and diminish your ability to perform your job in the future, thus reducing your future income and making your life much more difficult.
John Tucker has been working alongside workplace injury attorneys for years in his role of Director of Claims Management at Kaplan Lawyers PC.