If you experience a work-related injury or occupational disease, you may be eligible for workers compensation. With some exceptions, most workers are entitled to protection under workers compensation laws which vary from state-to-state. Workers compensation covers most job-related injuries. Workers compensation alleviates the difficulty and complexity of settling differences between employers and employees and provides assurance that the employee will once again be made whole. To learn more about workers’ compensation, read below:
- wage replacement,
- medical treatment,
- vocational rehabilitation, and
- other benefits
The workers’ compensation system evolved quickly after the turn of the 20th century in this country. Along with the industrial revolution came bigger, faster, and more complex machinery, and many more work place hazards. Congress passed the Workers’ Compensation Act for federal employees in 1908. Each state has now passed workers’ compensation laws providing benefits for workplace injuries and illness.
While the workers’ compensation program is national, the states are responsible for implementing it, which means that important aspects of the program vary according to the laws of your state.
These laws were initially put in place to balance the rights of workers and employers and provide a way to settle differences quickly and privately. Both the employer and employee give up some legal rights under the workers’ compensation laws of the various states. The employee gives up the right to go to court and sue his employer for on-the-job injuries which, in some states, could be for unlimited amounts of damages (although many states have passed laws capping the amount of damages). Instead, the worker is entitled to receive a definite award, based upon fixed maximums set by the various states.
In return, employers give up the right to deny responsibility due to potential negligence by the employee that may have contributed to the injury. The workers’ compensation systems are considered “no-fault” systems. Employers finance the system primarily through insurance premiums, although in some states, companies may self-insure, which means that they pay all claims themselves.
- Any physical injury on the job, which can include exposure to dust, toxins, hearing loss caused by workplace and repetitive motion injury – such as carpal tunnel.
- Preexisting conditions that the workplace accelerates or aggravates. Examples may include a back injury, even though you do not notice the pain from the injury until later.
- Injuries caused during breaks, lunch hours, and work-sponsored activities (such as a company picnic), and at-work injuries caused by company facilities, such as a chair in the company lunchroom.
- Injuries resulting from mental and physical strain brought on by increased work duties or work-related stress. In some states, this includes employees who develop a disabling mental condition because of the demands of the job and a supervisor’s constant harassment. Mental distress caused by something other than an initial physical injury is sometimes excluded from workers’ compensation completely, depending on your state.
- self-inflicted injuries (including those caused by a person who starts a fight);
- injuries suffered while a worker was committing a serious crime;
- injuries suffered while an employee was not on the job;
- injuries suffered when an employee’s conduct violated company policy; and
- injuries suffered when an employee was intoxicated.
Diseases contracted by exposure to toxins at work are covered by workers’ compensation. The Disease must have been contracted under normal working conditions.
Yes, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) provides compensation for survivors of federal civilian employees who are killed. Although workers’ compensation coverage varies from state to state, generally employees’ survivors are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
For example: If your injury was the result of a machine malfunction, and that malfunction was caused by the manufacturer’s negligence you are eligible for workers’ compensation and you can sue the manufacturer responsible for the machine malfunction. Another example would be if someone ran a red light and hit the company truck you were driving while making deliveries for your employer. You are eligible for workers compensation and you can sue the person who caused your injury. Your employer can sue this negligent third party to recover the workers’ compensation benefits he is required to pay to you. Your employer could also join in your lawsuit and seek reimbursement of their obligations out of your damage award. Most states require employees to notify their employers if they intend to sue a third party.
One issue that parties may have difficulty settling is how much compensation is enough when a worker has suffered a permanent disability. This issue may need to be decided by an administrative judge if the parties cannot settle on how much is enough to compensate someone for a lifetime of disability. Some states allow lump sum settlements for permanent disability, and others allow weekly payments.
If you’re worried about the cost of a lawyer, many lawyers will speak with you about your situation for free or for a small fee before you decide to hire them or not. Workplace Fairness can help you find a lawyer who practices regularly in workers’ compensation.
No, workers’ compensation laws in almost all states prevent employers from disciplining workers for filing a workers’ compensation claim. It does not matter if the claim is eventually thrown out; your employer is not allowed to retaliate. If your employer does discipline, discharge, or fire you, you have a case against your employer as long as the disciplinary action was related to your workers’ compensation claim.
Yes. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) administers four major disability compensation programs which provides to federal workers (or their dependents) and other specific groups who are injured at work or acquire an occupational disease – providing the injured:
- Wage replacement benefits
- Medical treatment
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Other benefits
See the U.S. Department of Labor Federal Employees Compensation Program for more information.