Workers’ compensation provides benefits for employees who suffer an accidental injury or occupational disease while on the job. Accidental injuries are those that occur from a specific one-time incident, like a trip and fall. An occupational disease is usually a condition or illness that stems from long-term activities or exposures at work, such as a repetitive trauma or toxic exposure. In either case, you should do everything you can to protect yourself by ensuring that you will be covered by workers’ compensation after you’ve been hurt.
These guidelines will help, but employers or insurance companies may still deny a claim without a valid reason. Also, keep in mind that this advice is just a starting point – it should not replace a lawyer – and if you’ve been hurt at work, contacting an attorney is usually the best thing you can do to protect your interests.
Here are 10 things you should do after you’ve been injured at work:
- Identify witnesses. Look around to see if anyone saw the injury occur. Find out their names and make a note as soon as possible. It’s easy to forget what other people were around after the fact.
- Take pictures of the area where you were hurt and of your injuries (if visible). Even if there was nothing wrong or defective about the thing that caused your injury, it’s a good idea to have photos so you can explain to others what occurred. If you don’t have a cell phone or camera with you at the time of the accident, go back to the spot and snap a few pictures later, if possible.
- Report the incident immediately to your supervisor. The amount of time that you have to report an injury to your employer varies from state to state. In Maine, for example, you mustnotify your employer within 30 days of the accident or of discovering your work-related occupational disease. Yet, in Massachusetts you have four years to notify your employer. Regardless, it is always best to report the injury or condition immediately. The longer you wait, the harder it is to prove that the incident occurred or that it is work-related.
- Make sure your supervisor knows that your injury is from the job. Sometimes an employer will contend that although you told them about an injury, you didn’t tell them it was work-related. Employers or their insurance carriers will say this in order to avoid paying benefits by denying your claim. The very best thing you can do is notify your supervisor in writing about your work-related injury or occupational illness. Be sure to keep a copy of your email or letter.
- See a doctor immediately. Some states require that you first see a doctor of your employer’s choosing. Other states allow you to go anywhere you wish. Either way, the important thing is getting to a doctor so you can be evaluated. Seeing a doctor also creates a medical record that documents the fact that you suffered an injury.
- Make sure your doctor knows that your injury is work-related. Be clear when explaining how the incident occurred. It isn’t necessary to go into a lengthy description of the event – it’s usually sufficient to simply say that you “slipped and fell in a puddle” or that you “hurt [your] shoulder lifting a heavy box.” However it happened, be clear and consistent when describing the event to all your medical providers.
- Get an out-of-work note from the doctor if your injury is severe enough to prevent you from doing your job. This is pretty straight-forward – but you’d be surprised how many people simply call out sick and never tell their employer they’re out due to a work-related injury. You are much better off getting a doctor’s note that says you should be out of work. This will help ensure that you’re able to collect disability pay from workers’ comp, rather than having to use your own sick time or paid time off.
- Within a few days of reporting your work injury, contact your human resources (HR) department – or whoever handles workers’ compensation benefits at your company – and find out their workers’ comp insurance carrier. Get the company’s name, phone number, the claim adjuster’s name, and the claim number (if they have it). This information is critical to making sure you have the contact information of the person at the insurance company who is handling your claim.
- Be careful about giving any recorded or written statements. It is commonplace that an employer will ask you to fill out an incident report after your injury. That’s usually fine – and you should provide them with the information necessary to file a workers’ compensation claim. But make sure that no one is pressuring you into changing your words or saying something you don’t agree with. Also, after your workers’ comp claim is filed, you will often be asked to do a recorded interview with the insurance company. Although you are probably required to answer their questions, you are almost certainly not required to do so in a recorded call or interview. Be wary of these recorded interviews, as some of the questions can be a “trap,” leading insurance companies to deny your claim. If you’re uncertain about this – then…
- Contact an attorney. Get in touch with a lawyer if you are unsure about your obligations or your rights, and especially if you have been denied any benefits. Even if you just have questions about the process, it’s smart to talk with an experienced attorney. Though you may be hesitant to do so, workers’ comp lawyers routinely handle these matters and can give you a better idea about what to expect. More importantly, the workers’ comp attorneys at Edgewise Law will never charge you for an initial conversation – so you literally have nothing to lose by making the call.
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