An Employer's Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Washington

Learn the basics about workers’ compensation insurance coverage and claims for a Washington business owner.

By , Attorney

Most Washington businesses with employees are required to pay for workers' compensation insurance (WC or workers' comp insurance). The insurance provides compensation to employees who suffer work-related injuries. Here are some basic facts that you need to know about workers' comp insurance in Washington as a business owner and employer.

Who Is Required to Have Workers' Comp Insurance?

If your Washington business has just one employee, even if that employee is part-time, you're generally required to carry workers' compensation insurance. However, there are a variety of narrow exceptions to carrying workers' compensation insurance, such as:

  • domestic workers in private homes, as long as you don't employ two or more such workers for more than 40 hours per week
  • people doing gardening, maintenance, or repair work for a private home
  • someone who is not a regular employee of the employer's business or trade, such as someone hired to perform a personal errand or chore that benefits an individual but not a business
  • a person working in return for aid from a charitable or religious organization
  • a child under age 18 employed by a parent for agricultural work on a farm
  • employees who are otherwise covered under an applicable federal law, such as the Federal Employees' Compensation Act; and
  • certain musicians and entertainers.

For a complete list of exceptions, check the L&I Employers' Guide.

In addition, business owners, such as members of LLCs, corporate officers, partners in partnerships, and sole proprietors, usually are not required to be covered by workers' compensation insurance. However, there are some limitations on this exception.

Who Administers Workers' Comp Insurance?

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is the primary state agency that handles workers' comp claims. Most of the law for WC insurance is contained in Washington's Workers' Compensation Act (Title 51 of the Revised Code of Washington). In addition to the Act, there are also administrative rules (Chapter 296-17 of the Washington Administrative Code) that cover workers' compensation in Washington.

Where Can You Get Insurance?

In Washington, you typically will obtain workers' compensation insurance through an insurance pool called the Washington State Fund. You apply for coverage by filing a business license application with the Washington Department of Revenue. There is also an option to self-insure, but this may not be practicable for smaller businesses, in part because it requires that a lot of money be set aside to cover potential claims.

What Steps Should You Take When an Employee Gets Hurt?

You are responsible for ensuring that an injured employee immediately gets required medical care for a doctor or hospital of the employee's choice. This includes providing transportation, such as an ambulance, if necessary. For initial treatment, the employee may see someone outside the L&I Medical Provider Network. However, additional or ongoing care must come from providers in the network. For most injuries, employees must make a claim within one year. For a few types of injury or illness, an employee has two years to make a claim.

The injured employee should report the injury to you as soon as possible. In cases where a medical provider is involved, the provider will give the employee a Form F242-130-000, Report of Accident (Workplace Injury, Accident or Occupational Disease), known by the abbreviation ROA, which the employee completes and submits to L&I to start the claims process. Often this filing will be done online.

You will receive a request for information form from L&I. You should complete it and return it as soon as possible. Include your copy of the ROA. Beyond these initial steps, there are subsequent steps to the WC claims process, not covered here.

What If You Don't Believe Your Employee Has a Valid Claim?

If you don't think your employee's workers' comp claim is valid, state that on the request for information form that you return to L&I . Then, within 60 days of a decision by L&I to accept the employee's claim, you can file a protest through L&I's Claim & Account Center webpage.

Disputes about the validity of claims initially are adjudicated by L&I. If you are unhappy with L&I's decision, you can file an appeal with the state Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. You can then further appeal the matter to the Court of Appeals.

What If You Don't Have Workers' Comp Insurance?

If you don't carry workers' compensation insurance you may be subject to various penalties and fines. There are also penalties for not paying WC premiums on time and not filing required WC reports. A few penalty rules are contained in Section 296-15-266 of the Washington's Administrative Code.

Additional Information

There are many other workers' compensation requirements for Washington employers that are not covered here, such as putting up posters about workers' compensation coverage where employees can see them. The Nolo website has a section devoted to workers' compensation. In addition, the L&I website also contains many useful resources.

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