I Was Injured at Work. What are My Legal Rights?
Understand your legal options -- including your right to file a workers' compensation claim -- if you have been injured on the job.
Employers in every state are required to provide to their employees a reasonably safe and healthy work environment. Sometimes employers fail to fulfill this duty, and employees are injured as a result. Occasionally, however, employees can still be injured on the job even when every effort has been made to make a workplace safe. These injuries may include everything from broken bones, aggravations of pre-existing conditions, occupational illnesses, even psychological injuries. Every state has some type of system that helps employees with work-related injuries.
In this article, we'll look at workers' rights when they are injured on the job.
If I am Injured on the Job, How Can I Protect My Rights?
The most important way, and also the easiest way, to protect your legal rights is to report your injury to your employer. Most states require that you report your injury within a certain period of time, typically the same day or within a few days of the incident. Depending on the circumstances of the injury, this may not always be possible, but it is important to report the injury as quickly as is practical.
The next step you can take to protect your rights is to file a claim with the workers' compensation court or industrial court in your state. Again, this puts your employer, the court and your employer’s insurance company on formal notice of your injury.
Once your claim is filed, certain automatic protections are immediately put in place, and we'll look at those in the next section.
What are My Rights?
Workers' compensation laws vary widely from state to state. The rights afforded an injured employee vary widely as well, as do the different legal procedures that ensure those rights.
Generally speaking, however, there are a number of legal rights that are common across most states:
- you have the right to file a claim for your injury or illness in workers compensation court or the state industrial court
- you have the right to see a doctor and to pursue medical treatment
- if you are released to return to work by your physician, you have the right to return to your job
- if you are unable to return to work because of your injury or illness, whether permanently or even temporarily, you have the right to some type of disability compensation
- if you disagree with any decision by your employer, the employer’s insurance company, or the workers' compensation court, you generally have the right to appeal that decision, and
- you have the right to be represented by a lawyer throughout the process.
In understanding your rights to act, as an employee it is just as important to understand your right to refuse certain requests or offers. For example, if you are injured and your employer encourages you to use your own health insurance to pay for your medical treatment, you have the right to say, “no.”
And if your boss offers you some incentive in an attempt to persuade you against filing a workers compensation claim, this is illegal. You have the right to say, “no.”
The laws in each state provide that you can pursue a workers' compensation claim without fear of reprisal or harassment from your employer. If your employer makes it difficult for you to freely exercise these rights, the penalties imposed upon the employer can be quite severe. It is illegal for your boss or supervisor to harass you at work or otherwise make it difficult for you to do your job, if your filing of a workers compensation claim is the motivation for that behavior.
What Are My Rights Against Parties Other Than My Employer?
Sometimes your on-the-job injury might have been caused by the negligence of a third party. Depending on the circumstances, this other person or entity may be a designer or manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment or perhaps the driver of a delivery truck. If you are injured while at work due to the negligence of another party, you may have the right to bring a claim against that person or entity. These are known as “third party claims.” Typically, these claims are not filed in the workers' compensation universe. Rather, they take the form of civil lawsuits and are filed in state or federal courts.
Civil lawsuits for work-related injuries can typically seek additional personal injury damages that are not recoverable in a workers' compensation claim. For example, the benefits you receive in a workers' compensation claim are typically intended to reimburse you for your medical expenses and lost wages -- you are usually not allowed to seek compensation for pain and suffering. In a third party claim, you generally are allowed to seek compensation for pain and suffering, which is a category of "non-economic" damages.
Learn more about Workplace Injuries: When You Can Sue Outside of Workers Comp.