I want to file a workers’ comp claim in California, but when I reported my injury to my supervisor, he just shrugged it off. The company I work for is tiny; there are only five employees. I’m not even sure if my employer has workers’ comp insurance coverage. Is there a way to find out?
In California, as in most states, all employers—even if they have only one employee—must have workers’ compensation insurance (Cal. Labor Code § 3700 (2018)). Some very large employers can insure themselves, but the small company you work for probably wouldn’t meet the strict requirements for self-insurance. So unless your employer is violating the law (more on that below), it should have a policy with a licensed workers’ comp insurance company.
There are a couple of different ways to find out the name of that company. California employers are also legally required to post a notice about workers’ compensation that includes the name of its insurer. The notice is supposed to be somewhere conspicuous, where employees can easily see it. (Cal. Labor Code §§ 3550 (2018).) Check your break room, changing room, or near a time clock. If you can’t find the notice, you can look for your employer’s insurance company online, using the California Workers’ Compensation Coverage Inquiry search tool. (Here again, other states have similar notice requirements and search tools.)
Meanwhile, you should speak to your supervisor again. He may not understand employers’ legal obligations under the workers’ comp system. In California, within a day after you report a work-related injury, the employer must give you a claim form that includes information about the workers’ comp process and what you have to do to apply for benefits. (See more details in our article on how to file a workers’ comp claim in California.)
If it turns out that your employer doesn’t have workers’ comp insurance, you may sue your employer outside of the workers’ comp system and seek the full range of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit—an option that generally isn’t available when employers have insurance. You may also file for workers’ comp benefits with California's Uninsured Employers Benefits Trust Fund (UEBTF). If you qualify, the fund would pay those benefits directly to you (and then try to collect from your employer). As even the state admits, however, filing a claim with the UEBTF is complicated. You’d be wise to contact a workers’ comp lawyer who can help you through the process, discuss the pros and cons of filing a civil lawsuit, and protect your rights.