Workers' Compensation: What Happens If I'm Late Reporting My Injury?

Most states have deadlines for giving your employer notice of a workplace injury, but there are usually exceptions.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law


I slipped and fell at work about two months ago. At that time, my back was a little sore, but I thought it was a minor problem. I didn't report the injury or seek medical treatment. But as time passed, my back pain got worse and started to run down my leg.

My primary care doctor thinks I seriously hurt my back during the slip and fall at work. My doctor also thinks that all the heavy lifting I do at work made the original injury worse. Is it too late to file a workers' comp claim?


When you suffer a work injury, it's important to report it promptly. Most states have relatively short deadlines for doing so, and late reporting may result in your benefits being reduced or automatically denied.

Reporting deadlines vary from state to state. Many states, such as California and Florida, have 30-day deadlines. Other states like Iowa and Michigan give workers 90 days to report their injuries.

Still other states, such as Arizona and Hawaii, don't specify a specific deadline; instead, they may simply require employees to report their injuries promptly or as soon as it's practical. In Colorado, if you don't report your injury within four days, you'll lose a day of benefits for each day that you're late.

If you have an occupational illness or a condition that develops gradually, such as a repetitive stress condition or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the time period for notifying your employer may be longer and typically doesn't start until you discover the condition and its connection to your work. This usually happens when a doctor tells you that your job activities caused the problem.

Because your back injury worsened over time, you may still be eligible for benefits even if the deadline has passed from the date of the accident. However, now that you know your back condition is related to your job, you should report it immediately.

Insurance companies often deny claims by employees who reported their injuries late. If that happens to you, however, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to receive any workers' comp benefits. Most states excuse late reporting under some circumstances, at least up until a certain point. Even when you miss the reporting deadline, you still may be eligible for workers' comp benefits if, for example:

  • your employer was aware or should have been aware of the injury or illness (for example, if your supervisor witnessed the accident)
  • you were quarantined because your illness was contagious (for instance, if you were under quarantine because of on-the-job exposure to the coronavirus)
  • you have another good reason for not notifying your employer on time (for example, if you were incapacitated and couldn't get someone to give notice for you)
  • your employer wasn't harmed by your failure to report the injury on time, or
  • your employer didn't post legally required notices about workers' comp rules.

If you report your injury now and your employer's insurance company denies your claim, you have the right to appeal. But you should strongly consider speaking with a workers' comp lawyer. A local attorney who's experienced in this field can explain the rules in your state, including the reporting deadline and whether you qualify for any exceptions.

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