I Was Injured at Work. What Are My Legal Rights?

Understand your legal options—including your right to file a workers' compensation claim—if you've been injured on the job.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Employers in every state are required to provide their employees with a reasonably safe work environment, but work-related injuries happen—everything from broken bones to repetitive stress injuries, even occupational illness.

In this article, we'll look at workers' rights when they're injured on the job.

If I'm Injured on the Job, How Can I Protect My Rights?

The first thing to do when it comes to to protecting your rights is to report your injury to your employer. Most states require that you report your injury within a certain period of time, typically the same day or within a few days of the incident. The sooner the better. Learn more about what happens when you're late reporting a workplace injury.

The next step you can take to protect your rights is to file a workers' compensation claim with the workers' compensation court or industrial court in your state. This puts your employer, the court and your employer's insurance company on formal notice of your injury.

Once your claim is filed, certain automatic protections are immediately put in place, and we'll look at those in the next section.

What Are Your Rights If You Get Injured at Work?

Workers' compensation laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking:

  • you have the right to file a claim for your injury or illness in workers' compensation court or the state industrial court
  • you have a right to a workers' compensation hearing
  • you have the right to see a doctor and to pursue medical treatment for your work-related injuries
  • you have the right to receive all workers' compensation benefits to which you're entitled
  • if you are released to return to work by your physician, you have the right to return to your job
  • if you are unable to return to work because of your injury or illness, whether permanently or temporarily, you have the right to some type of disability compensation
  • you generally have the right to appeal a workers' compensation claim denial, and
  • you have the right to be represented by a lawyer throughout the process.

Your Rights Against Coercion and Harassment Involving Workers' Comp

In understanding your rights to act, as an injured employee it's just as important to understand your right to refuse certain requests or offers, and to be free from harassment and intimidation when it comes to making a workplace injury claim.

For example, if you are injured and your employer encourages you to use your own health insurance to pay for your medical treatment, rather than make a workers' compensation claim, you have the right to say "no." (Learn more about seeking medical treatment for a work-related injury.)

Similarly, if your boss offers you some incentive in an attempt to get you to not file a workers' compensation claim, you have the right to say "no."

The laws in each state allow you to pursue a workers' compensation claim without fear of reprisal or harassment from your employer. If your employer makes it difficult for you to freely exercise these rights, they could face a variety of penalties.

What Are My Rights Against Parties Other Than My Employer?

Sometimes an on-the-job injury is caused by the fault or negligence of a third party, such as the manufacturer of defective equipment, or the driver of a delivery truck. You may have the right to bring an injury claim against that person or entity. Typically, such a claim isn't filed in the workers' compensation universe, but in civil court as a lawsuit.

Filing a civil lawsuit for work-related injuries means you can typically seek payment for some losses ("damages" in the language of the law) that aren't recoverable in a workers' compensation claim.

For example, the benefits you receive in a workers' compensation claim are typically intended to reimburse you for your medical expenses and lost wages—you are usually not allowed to seek compensation for "non-economic" damages, such as the mental and physical pain and suffering resulting from your injuries. But in a personal injury lawsuit against a third party, these kinds of damages are recoverable. Learn more about when you can sue outside of workers' comp.

Next Steps After a Workplace Injury

If you think the circumstances of your workplace injury might enable you to file a workers' compensation claim or take other legal action, it might make sense to discuss your situation (and your options) with a lawyer. Learn more about when to hire a workers' comp lawyer, and when to get help from a personal injury lawyer. And if you're ready to reach out for help now, you can use the features right on this page to connect with a lawyer in your area.

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