What to Do After an Injury at Work: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

Protect your rights if you suffered an injury while working. Here’s how to file the appropriate claim to get the compensation you deserve.

Employers generally have to provide their employees with a safe work environment. But yet workplace injuries take place every day.

Almost three million workers suffered a non-fatal work injury or illness in one year alone.¹

The same year, 5,333 workers died on the job, averaging almost 15 deaths per day.²

If you suffered a workplace injury, you’re protected by certain rights that an employer can’t take away. For example, you have the right to file a claim with your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier. If a party other than your employer contributed to your injury, you have the right to file a personal injury claim against that third party.

Depending on the facts of your case, you can file both a workers’ comp claim and a personal injury claim to seek compensation for your medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

If you were seriously injured during the course of your job duties, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice to protect your rights and increase your potential payout. Here’s what to do if you witness a workplace accident.

What to Do After an Injury at Work to Get Compensation

Report a Work-Related Injury to Your Employer

After seeking medical attention, people hurt at work must remember to report their accident to their employer. You should make a report to help protect your legal rights, including the right to file a workers’ comp or personal injury claim.

Most state laws say that a worker has to report their injury within a specific period of time after it takes place. This time period is usually on the same day of the accident, within a few days of the accident, or within a reasonable time after the incident.

Some states say that you must report your injury in writing by letter or email. Other states say that it’s acceptable to make a verbal report.

If you make a verbal report, it’s generally a good idea to follow up with a written report of your accident and keep a copy for your records.

The person to whom you report your incident will largely depend on your employer. For example, if you work for a small business, you might report your accident directly to the company’s owner. With larger operations, you may report your injury to a supervisor, manager, or human relations department.

If you’re unsure who to make a report to, check an employee handbook or ask your manager.

If you fail to report your accident, an employer can deny that it ever took place. A company can also say that your accident occurred outside of work. Either allegation can work to slow down or stop an injury claim.

Keep in mind that some companies also have strict rules for reporting a work-related injury. If you fail to make a report, you could receive a reprimand or a fine.

Avoid these 7 mistakes when reporting work injuries to your employer.

File a Workers’ Compensation Claim

While reporting your work injury to your employer is part of a workers’ comp claim, the act alone is not the same thing as filing a claim.

Once a worker tells their employer about an injury, the company will provide the employee with a workers’ comp claim form. The employee must complete the “Employee” section of this form to start a workers’ comp claim.

You’ll generally have to provide details about your accident and the treatment you received for your injuries. Once you complete the form, make sure to sign and date it. Also make a copy of it for your records.

Once completed, return the form to your employer. If you mail it, try to send it using certified mail – return receipt requested. This method of delivery will help you prove that your company did, in fact, receive your form.

Once your employer receives your information, it will then complete the “Employer” section of your form and send the document to its insurance company. A company must provide an injured worker with a copy of the completed form that it sends to its insurer. If you don’t receive a copy, make sure to ask your employer for one.

Insurance companies usually have to mail an injured worker within 14 days of receiving a workers’ comp form. The companies must send a letter that informs the employee of their claim status.

Federal employees must go through a slightly different reporting process after suffering an on-the-job injury. Here’s how to file a federal workers’ comp claim.

Filing a Workers’ Comp vs. Personal Injury Claim

A workers’ compensation claim is a separate and distinct claim from one for a personal injury. Depending on the facts of your case, you can file one or the other or maybe even both.

You can file a workers’ comp claim if you suffered a work-related injury and you are a covered employee. Workers are normally entitled to workers’ comp benefits if they are full-time workers and working for a business with one or more employees.

Most state workers’ compensation laws say that employees suffer a work-related injury if they experience any injury or illness on the job. “On the job” means that you were injured or suffered an illness as a direct result of your employment.

A few common injuries covered by workers’ compensation include:

  • Slip and falls at work
  • Back injuries from heavy lifting
  • Carpal tunnel from computer/keyboard work
  • Injuries suffered in a car accident

You don’t have to prove that anyone caused or contributed to your work accident to file a workers’ comp claim. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program. You don’t have to prove that your employer or a co-worker contributed to your work injury in any way.

If the insurance company accepts your claim, you can receive compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Partial lost wages
  • Vocational Rehabilitation

Third-Party Injury Claims

Sometimes a worker is injured by some third party in the course of performing their work-related duties.

For example, an electrician driving to a job site could get hit by another driver. If the electrician gets hurt and the other driver was at fault for the accident, the motorist represents a third party responsible for causing the injury.

In these situations, the injured worker can file a third-party lawsuit against the at-fault third party. Short of a lawsuit, the worker can file a personal injury claim with the party’s insurance company.

Unlike with a workers’ comp claim, you do have to show that a third party caused your accident. You often do this by showing that the third party acted negligently, or unreasonably under the circumstances.

If successful in a third-party claim, you can try to recover compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Future lost earnings
  • Property damage
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Pain and suffering

Deciding Which Claim to File

If you were injured at work and can’t figure out who was to blame, you’ll want to file a workers’ comp claim to get compensation quickly. Remember that workers’ comp is a no-fault program.

If a third party caused or contributed to your work injury, you could file a workers’ comp claim, a third-party claim, or even both.

Workers’ comp benefits get paid far quicker when compared to payments for a personal injury claim. This might lead you to file a workers’ compensation claim.

However, personal injury claims can result in more types of compensation when compared to a workers’ comp claim. For example, while you can recover for pain and suffering in a third-party action, you can’t in a workers’ comp claim. This might lead you to file a third-party claim.

You can file both types of claims if you can show that a third party was negligent in causing your accident. If you settle or win your third-party case, though, you can expect the workers’ comp insurance company to put a lien on your settlement. Workers’ comp has a right to seek reimbursement for the medical expenses and wage benefits it paid to you.

Most state laws say that an insurer can only take a lien for about two-thirds of what they paid to you.

Suing Your Employer

The general rule in almost all states is that injured workers may not sue an employer, even in cases of employer negligence.

This means that if your employer was negligent in causing your injury, you couldn’t file both a workers’ comp claim and a personal injury claim against your employer.

Many states, however, do carve out an exception to this rule and allow a worker to sue an employer if the employer’s actions were deliberate and certain to result in the employee’s injuries.

For example, a worker may file an injury suit against their employer if the employer deliberately exposed the worker to a harmful chemical in the course of employment or willfully failed to fix a highly dangerous condition.

The worker could file this lawsuit even if they filed a workers’ compensation claim with the employer’s insurer.

Injured Employees’ Rights After an Injury

People who get hurt at work enjoy several rights that neither an employer nor state law can take away from or limit.

After a job injury, employees have the right to:

  • Get prompt medical treatment
  • File a workers’ comp claim without retaliation
  • File a personal injury claim if a third party caused the injury
  • Receive wage replacement benefits if unable to work
  • Return to work after recovery
  • Appeal if an insurance company denies your workers’ comp claim
  • File a lawsuit if an insurer denies your personal injury claim
  • Get help from an attorney with regards to filing and negotiating claims

Most people think an employer can’t fire a worker after an injury, but that may not be true.

Unfortunately, most employers can fire an employee if they suffer an injury, regardless of whether or not that injury is work-related. A business may fire an employee if their absence from work creates a hardship for the company.

But employers can’t fire a worker in retaliation for reporting a workplace injury.

Employers also can’t encourage or force you to use your own health insurance to pay for your injuries. If your employer has workers’ comp insurance, you enjoy the right to pursue compensation through that insurance plan.

Employers’ Responsibilities for Worker Safety

Employers are obligated to provide their workers with a safe and healthy workplace.

This obligation is enforced through state safety laws and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is a federal agency that sets forth workplace safety regulations.

Both state laws and OSHA require employers to:

  • Provide a workplace free from serious threats or hazards
  • Comply with OSHA standards
  • Use posters, signs, or labels to mark or warn of hazardous conditions
  • Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Provide employees access to any medical records kept on their behalf
  • Keep workers up to date on any hazards in the workplace
  • Not discriminate against employees who make use of their safety rights
  • Correct any safety violation citations

Most employers are also required by state laws to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation coverage pays medical expenses and disability benefits to eligible employees after a workplace accident.

An injured employee can file a workers’ compensation claim with their employer’s insurance company provided that they are a covered worker. Employees are normally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are full-time workers, working for a business with one or more employees, and suffer a work-related injury.

State laws often prohibit specific employees from receiving workers’ comp insurance benefits.

Workers ineligible for workers’ comp include:

  • Independent contractors
  • Volunteers
  • Farmworkers
  • Maritime employees
  • Railroad employees
  • Seasonal or casual workers

If your employer fails to carry state-mandated workers’ comp insurance, you may file a lawsuit for your injuries and resulting damages.

Unlike workers’ comp claims in which you are only permitted to recover compensation for your medical bills and partial lost wages, in a lawsuit you can try to recover all of your damages, including full wages, future wages, and pain and suffering.

Can an Attorney Help?

If you’ve suffered a minor injury at work, you probably won’t need the assistance of a lawyer to recover compensation for your accident. You can report your injury to your employer by yourself, and you can take the necessary steps to file either a workers’ comp or personal injury claim.

If you experienced a serious work injury, you’ll want to seek a free consultation with a workers’ compensation lawyer or a personal injury attorney.

Serious injuries usually involve greater expenses and losses. A skilled lawyer will make sure you receive payment for every possible loss that you suffered.

As the cost of a claim increases, insurance carriers tend to fight harder when paying them off. Experienced lawyers are better situated to negotiate with tricky claims adjusters.

Attorneys will also have a better understanding of your state’s workers’ compensation system and will make sure you receive the correct amount in benefits.

Most workers’ compensation attorneys and law firms offer a free initial case evaluation, and their legal fees are only taken after they obtain a settlement on your behalf. This means there is no cost or obligation to get your questions answered.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>