If you’re injured at work, you might be torn about claiming against your employer out of fear of how they’ll react. You may even decide to wait it out, hoping that your injury will improve over time.
However, it’s your right to claim workers’ compensation if you’ve been injured or fallen ill in the workplace.
What Is Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ compensation — or workers’ comp — is a type of insurance taken out by companies to protect both the employer and its employees when an accident happens on the job.
It provides cover for out-of-pocket expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, and funeral costs if the injury proves fatal.
In all states except Texas, workers’ compensation is mandatory, although the exact requirements vary by jurisdiction. In South Carolina, for example, small companies with fewer than four employees are not required to take out insurance. There may also be additional exceptions depending on your location and the type of work you do.
What Can You Claim Workers’ Compensation For?
Workplace injuries are incredibly common. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that private industry employers reported 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2019. However, this may not be the full picture, with studies suggesting that many injuries and illnesses go unreported.
Workplace injuries can be debilitating. A fractured bone from a slip and fall accident could put you out of work until you heal. A repetitive strain injury could limit your ability to continue working. Some workplace injuries can even cause lifelong trauma or permanent disability, such as losing a limb after a machinery malfunction or suffering a spinal injury.
But it’s not just immediate injuries that occur in the workplace. Prolonged exposure to chemicals or other toxins in hazardous environments can lead to lung diseases, including asbestosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Whatever your injury or illness, you deserve compensation, so it’s not something you should be shy about claiming.
How to Make a Claim
The first thing you should do after an accident is to seek medical help. Not only is it vital for your injury to be treated, but it’s also essential you establish a paper trail. If you later hire an attorney to make your claim, they will seek to obtain your medical records to support your case. If you become ill, you should see a doctor as early as possible.
After receiving medical treatment, you should then inform your employer of the injury or illness and make it clear that it occurred on the job or due to your work environment. The amount of time you have to do this varies by state. In some jurisdictions, you have three months to inform your employer, but elsewhere, you may have just days.
In some cases, your employer may file the appropriate paperwork on your behalf. However, your employer may dispute your injury or fail to report it to the Workers’ Compensation Commission. In either case, it’s worth speaking to a workers’ comp lawyer for advice on how to pursue your claim.
When making a claim, time is of the essence as the deadline for filing ranges by state. You’ll typically have between one and three years, although there are exceptions. In some states, you may have longer if your injury has required prolonged treatment that has prevented you from taking action sooner.
Once you’ve made your claim, the Workers’ Compensation Commission will review your case and determine what, if any, compensation is owed.
At a minimum, you should recoup your medical expenses and most, if not all, of your lost wages. However, you may be disappointed with your result and feel you didn’t receive a fair amount. This can happen — the commission may have underestimated the severity of your injuries — but you can appeal the decision at a workers’ compensation hearing.
Should You Make a Workers’ Comp Claim for Minor Injuries?
If you’ve only sustained minor injuries from an accident, you might wonder if it’s worth claiming compensation. It’s worth bearing in mind that an injury can worsen, especially if caused by a repetitive action, such as heavy lifting.
Ultimately, you have nothing to lose by filing a claim — if your condition improves, your claim will close. But, if you don’t file a claim until your injury worsens, you could miss out on benefits you’re entitled to because the statute of limitations has expired, or you don’t have medical evidence from when you first noticed the injury.
Even if your initial case is closed and, months or years later, your medical condition gets worse, you may qualify to have your claim reopened.
However severe your workplace injury or illness, you shouldn’t hesitate to file a compensation claim. You deserve justice and the peace of mind that your finances won’t be affected as you focus on recovery or adapting to a new way of life.