The first step to a workers' compensation claim is reporting your injury to your employer. Prompt reporting often leads to a stronger claim for workers' comp benefits and a quicker medical recovery. Each state has its own requirements for giving proper notice to your employer, though. If you do not follow the correct procedure, you may lose your right to collect workers' comp benefits.
You cannot receive workers' compensation until you report your injury or illness to your employer. While every state requires or encourages prompt or immediate reporting of an injury, most states also have a strict deadline that you must meet in order to avoid having your claim barred.
Notice deadlines vary from state to state. For example, the deadline is 30 days in California and 90 days in Iowa. In other states, the deadline is much shorter. For example, a worker has only four days to report an injury in Colorado and only ten days to report an injury in Maryland (other than an occupational illness). In cases of occupational illness or conditions that develop gradually (such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome), the clock typically begins to run when you discover the condition and its relationship to your work. To learn the deadline that applies to you, select your state from our page on filing a workers' compensation claim.
If you are late in reporting your claim, you may become ineligible for benefits or receive a reduced amount. For example, in Colorado, you will typically lose one day's worth of benefits for every day that you are late. However, there are times when late reporting is excused. For more information, see What Happens If I'm Late Reporting My Injury?
Depending on what state you live in, you may need to give written notice. Some states require you to use a specific accident report form, while in others, any written format is acceptable (such as a letter or email). Additionally, some employers have their own accident report forms that are not required by workers' comp laws. If your state requires written notice, your employer's form may satisfy the notice requirement (unless a state-issued form is required). If you complete your employer's accident report, you should keep a copy for your records.
In other states, oral notice is allowed—typically by telling your supervisor or Human Resources department. Reporting your injury to a coworker is usually insufficient notice. However, even if oral notice is allowed, providing written notice can be to your benefit. If there is any question as to whether you reported your injury on time, you will have documentation to prove that you did. For that reason, be sure to keep a copy for your records.
When you notify your employer, include:
In addition to reporting your injury to your employer, some states require you to file a workers' compensation claim form. Typically, you would file the form with your state workers' compensation agency or give it to your employer to file with the agency. In some states, you can also file your claim online at the state agency's website.
Many states have strict deadlines for filing a workers' compensation claim form. If you miss the deadline, you will typically lose your right to collect workers' comp benefits. To learn more about the rules in your state, see our filing a workers' compensation claim page. An experienced workers' compensation lawyer or your state's workers' comp agency can also help you follow the correct procedure.
Insurance companies frequently use written notices or accident reports to dispute workers' compensation claims. Insurance companies may, for example, compare the information in your report to your doctor's initial treatment records and other evidence. If any of the information you reported is incorrect or inconsistent, your workers' comp claim may be denied.
When completing your written notice or accident report, avoid:
Your written report should be accurate and honest, but it does not need to include every potential detail of the incident. In fact, being too detailed can backfire. If the scope of your injuries is not clear yet, you may not want to be overly specific. In particular, do not include any diagnosis unless your doctor has given one.
However, you should report even minor symptoms. For example, suppose you hit your head at work and have only a minor headache. While it may seem trivial at the time, it could develop into something more serious later on. If the first mention of a headache happens weeks after your injury, the insurance company might question your credibility and deny your claim.
If you have questions about your workers' compensation claim or whether you gave proper notice, consider speaking with a lawyer. A workers' comp lawyer can guide you through the claim process and educate you about your legal rights. And, if your claim is denied, a lawyer can help you file an appeal.