If you are an employee and get hurt on the job, you have legal rights. Four in particular that you should know are:
- you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits,
- you have a right to return to your job,
- your employer cannot retaliate against you for making a workers’ comp claim, and
- you have a right to assistance from a lawyer.
1. You are entitled to workers’ compensation
Employees who get hurt on the job are entitled to recover workers’ compensation. All employers are legally required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. They pay their insurance carrier regular premiums. In exchange, the insurance company covers the costs of workplace injuries, as required by state law.
Employers are not allowed to keep you from filing a workers’ comp claim. Instead, employers are required to:
- give you the means necessary to file a claim for workers’ comp,
- receive any claim that you file, and
- submit legitimate claims to the employer’s insurance company.
If it fails or refuses to do any of these things, your employer can face repercussions. In some states, they can even be charged with a crime.
If you are kept from filing for workers’ comp, or if your employer is refusing to accept it or to pass it on to the workers’ compensation insurer, you can try to deal directly with the insurance company. You may also want to report the violation to your state’s workers’ compensation agency.
If your claim gets denied, you are entitled to an explanation. You can also appeal the denial.
2. You have a right to return to your job
If you miss work because of an occupational injury, you have a right to return to work. If your employer does not give you your job back, it can amount to a wrongful termination. This can violate the rule against retaliating against someone for filing for workers’ comp.
Instead, your employer should hold your old job open for your return.
If you cannot do your old job duties because of your injury, your employer can offer you light duty. They may also offer a similar role in the workplace. Your salary may be reduced accordingly.
However, you also have a right to not return to work until your doctor clears you to do so. Your employer cannot require you to come back in until you are healed and able to work again.
3. You cannot be retaliated against
You also have a right to be free from retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. This legal protection goes beyond just having a right to your job. It also includes other types of workplace discrimination, like:
- making you use vacation time for medical appointments,
- insisting that you use your own health insurance for your medical treatment,
- reducing your salary because of your injuries,
- creating a hostile work environment,
- refusing to add you to a rehire list for which you are eligible, and
- taking away work time to reduce your seniority.
However, these acts of discrimination have to stem from the workers’ comp claim. If there is another motive for them, then they are not considered discrimination or retaliation.
For example: James gets hurt on the job. When his doctor clears him to return to work, though, he quickly accumulates too many unexcused absences. He is warned about not showing up to work, but when his absences continue, he is fired.
In some states, including California, employers can be penalized for discriminating against someone for seeking workers’ compensation benefits.1
In California, for example, employers can be guilty of a misdemeanor criminal offense. Additionally, employees who have been discriminated against are entitled to receive:
- a 50 percent increase in workers’ compensation, up to an additional $10,000,
- up to $250 in costs and expenses,
- job reinstatement, and
- reimbursement for lost wages and other benefits caused by the employer’s discriminatory actions.2
4. You have a legal right to a lawyer throughout the process
Throughout the workers’ compensation process, you have a right to a lawyer. This can be your most important right. With the legal advice of a workers’ compensation lawyer, you can invoke your other workplace rights, recover the compensation that you deserve, and protect your professional future. It is often wise to establish an attorney-client relationship with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer as soon as you get hurt on the job.
Are my rights to compensation limited to medical care?
No, injured workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits that go beyond just their medical expenses. In addition to having medical benefits, injured employees are also entitled to compensation for a portion of their lost wages. If their job injury leads to a permanent disability, they are entitled to disability benefits.
Additionally, some injured workers may be entitled to benefits under social security disability insurance (SSDI). These benefits provide need-based disability compensation for impairments that keep you from working.
A workers’ compensation attorney from a reputable law firm can help you recover from a work-related injury.
Do I have a right to sue someone for a workplace injury?
Generally, workplace injuries have to go through the workers’ compensation system. However, workers’ compensation laws provide a few limited situations where you can file a personal injury claim over an occupational illness or injury. This claim may be filed against your employer. However, it is more likely to be filed against a third party.
Some examples of a worker’s right to file a personal injury claim include:
- a co-worker intentionally hurt you,
- your employer deliberately put you at risk of harm, or
- a third party hurt you while you were on the job.
For example: Dave is a truck driver. He is on the job when he is involved in a car accident and suffers several broken bones. He can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver of the crash.
- California Labor Code 132a LAB.