Workers Compensation in California: Worker Rights

The California workers'compensation system, paid for by employers, provides several benefits to injured workers.

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California has a no-fault workers compensation system, ideally benefiting both employees and employers. Workers cannot sue their employers in court, and in return, employees don’t have to prove that their employer was at fault for the injury – just that the injury was work-related. The California workers'compensation system, paid for by employers, provides several benefits to injured workers. 

Worker Rights and Entitlements under California Worker’s Compensation Laws

The following outlines the benefit entitlements of injured workers in the state of California. Note that all payments and non-cash benefits received are tax-exempt, which is different than for other benefits, such as unemployment.

  • Medical treatment costs, including associated expenses related to medical treatment, are covered by the worker’s compensation programs. This includes costs of medical evaluations, treatments, and surgery. Likewise, prescription drugs, medical aid devices, and transportation costs to seek treatment are also covered. California workers are reimbursed for traveling to medical appointments at the IRS mileage rate: 51 cents per mile, effective January 1, 2011.
  • Temporary disability payments, which are paid to an injured worker for time off work stemming from an injury. Payments are made based on two-thirds of the average weekly wage of a worker, with state-mandated weekly maximums, depending on your date of injury. You can be paid temporary disabiity payments for a maximum of two years after your date of injury (technically, up to 104 weeks within a 5 year period), unless you suffer from one of the following conditions (in which case you are entitled to 240 weeks of temporary total disability payments):
    • hepatitis B or C
    • HIV
    • amputation
    • severe burns
    • certain eye injuries
    • pulmonary fibrosis, or 
    • chronic lung disease.
  • Permanent disability payments, which are payments made to workers whose injury affects their ability to return to their former job or to participate in the job market. The amount paid out is according to a permanent disability rating, which varies depending on the injury sustained, the age of worker, the worker's occupation, and doctor's restrictions. Depending on your disability rating, you may receive permanent disability payments anywhere from four weeks to 14 years. 
  • Life pension payments, for workers who are severely disabled (70% - 99% rating of permanent disability). This is a small weekly payment in addition to the weekly permanent disability payments, but you can receive the life pension payment for the rest of your life.
  • Vocational retraining costs, called the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit, are available to workers who can no longer return to their previous job and whose employers did not offer them alternative or modified employment. The retraining benefit is a $4,000 - $10,000 voucher for education-related retraining at state-approved schools. The voucher covers school tuition, fees, and books.
  • Death benefits, owed to dependents or spouses of workers killed while engaging in work-related activity, including burial expenses.

Worker Recovery and Entitlements Outside of Worker's Compensation

Depending on the nature of your worker’s compensation claim and related injuries, workers may be entitled to recover other forms of benefits outside of the worker’s compensation program, including state disability insurance benefits (SDI), Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), or court judgments or settlements from a lawsuit against third party. For more information, see Nolo's article Workplace Injury: When You Can Sue Outside of Worker's Compensation. If you were injured by a third party (someone other than your employer) or a product manufactured by a third party, you should talk to a personal injury attorney in addition to a workers' comp attorney about your rights.

by: , J.D.

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