Can I file a workers’ comp claim after I quit?

It’s possible to qualify for workers’ comp benefits if you were injured before you left your job—even if you didn’t file a claim until later—as long as you meet certain requirements.

Question

I quit my job about a month ago. About a week before I resigned, I hurt my back when I was bending over to pick up some heavy equipment. At the time, I didn’t think it was a big deal so I didn’t file a report. But in the last few weeks my back has been killing me. Can I still file a workers’ comp claim? Or am I no longer eligible?

Answer

Assuming that you’re otherwise eligible for workers’ comp benefits, the fact that you quit your job isn’t necessarily a barrier to receiving benefits for an injury that happened while you were still working. However, insurance companies are usually suspicious of claims that are filed only after a worker quits or is fired. They may view these claims as an attempt to collect a weekly paycheck (since people who voluntarily quit aren’t usually eligible for unemployment benefits) or get revenge for being fired.

In order to support your claim, you’ll need some proof that your injury happened at work before you quit. This may be a statement from a coworker or someone else who witnessed the accident, video footage from work surveillance cameras, or medical records if you sought treatment right after the injury. If your accident happened while you were alone and you didn’t tell anyone or seek medical treatment, you may have a very difficult time recovering benefits.

Unfortunately, there may be another barrier to your claim in this situation. In most states, there are time limits for reporting your injury to your employer. Those time limits vary considerably from state to state, but they’re often about 30 days. If you fail to notify your employer within this timeframe, you may lose your right to receive workers’ comp benefits. However, the notice doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal report. For example, if you told your boss about the incident or a coworker witnessed it and told a manager, that will generally count as notice.

Even if you’re outside of the time limits in your state, that’s something you should leave to the insurance company to notice and use as grounds for denying your claim. And there are always exceptions that might be apply in your case. For example, in some states, if you can prove that your delay in reporting the injury didn’t harm your employer in any way, you can move forward with your claim.

Because these rules can get complicated, it’s best to notify your employer right away, file a workers' comp claim, and consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer if your claim is denied. An attorney who’s experienced in this area can explain how the law in your state applies to your situation, whether you qualify for any exceptions, and how you might prove that the injury happened while you were still at your job.

And if the insurance company (or even the workers’ comp hearing officer) denies your claim based on an improper interpretation of the law, a good workers’ comp attorney can challenge that. For example, when a California truck driver quit his job a month after being injured in an on-the-job accident, his claim was denied because he hadn’t met the special requirements in state law (Cal. Labor Code § 3600(a)(10)) for workers’ comp claims filed after the employee has received notice of a being fired or laid off (including a voluntary layoff). After he appealed, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board ruled that the law didn’t apply to voluntary resignations, so his claim could go forward. (CJS Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Board, 74 Cal.App.4th 294 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999).)

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