Workers’ Compensation Law

Workers’ compensation, otherwise known as worker’s comp, is a program providing employees who are injured or sickened while on the job an income during their recovery period.  In addition to the replaced income, injured or sickened workers are eligible for medical expenses and other costs caused by the workplace related injury or illness.  For employers, paying employee’s workers’ compensation benefits significantly shields them from future lawsuits by the worker themselves or the worker’s family.  In instances of death on the job, which are still relatively common unfortunately, the spouse and dependents of the deceased employee can claim workers’ compensation benefits. 

In general, workers’ compensation benefits are modest to say the least.  Often, employers will carry workers’ compensation insurance, which is paid out from insurance premiums.  The theory behind workers’ compensation is to offer employees and employers an efficient and fair means to resolve disputes of injury or illness compensation without filing suit.  However, this is not exactly always the case.  If you are injured or become ill in the workplace, several interlinking laws may protect your rights to compensation and other benefits in tandem with workers’ compensation claims, including:

  • The Families and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA
  • Railroad Workers/Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA
  • The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
  • Unemployment compensation from your state system
  • Social Security Disability Insurance for persons unable to work

If you are filing a workers’ compensation claim, it is integral to note state-level laws govern workers’ compensation plans, and laws may differ significantly in your state from others.  However, several general patterns of uniform policy affect most or all states.

Employer Responsibilities under Workers’ Compensation Laws

The vast majority of employers, depending on their state, are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance policies, or if they can feasibly afford to do so, provide an intra-company workers’ compensation plan.  Save for very limited industries and a position, any worker injured on the job has the right to file a workers’ compensation claim with their company or their company’s insurance provider. 

In all cases of employment-related injuries, employers must maintain a high level of documentation regarding every incident, regardless of how minor it may seem at the time.  Additionally, employers are required to post information about workers’ compensation assistance in a visible work area, such as a lunchroom.  Employers must always seek to provide immediate medical attention to injured employees, regardless of the cost, and in the event an employee refuses medical attention, employers must continue to insist and assist an employee in receiving the necessary medical care.  As with any legally-protected workplace right, employers cannot retaliate or discriminate against workers for filing workers’ compensation claims or challenging declined benefits claims within the bounds of their legal rights.

Am I Covered by Workers’ Compensation Laws?

As a rule, almost all applicable full and part-time employees are provided protection under workers’ compensation laws.  There are some groups of workers not afforded protection under workers’ compensation laws, including:

  • Federal employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Harbor workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Seafarers
  • In some states, workers in companies with less than five employees
  • In most states, volunteers, domestic workers, and farm workers are also excluded from workers’ compensation protection

The only options for workers’ not expressly covered by workers’ compensation laws would be to file a lawsuit against their employers for lost income and medical expenses.  If you consider yourself an  independent contractor, look over your state’s definition of independent contractors, as many times you are actually considered a bona fide employee under the protections of the law.

Next Page: Injuries and Medical Issues Covered

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