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US Employees: Understand Your Workers Comp Rights

The United States legal environment is an ever-changing beast and can seem like a labyrinthine web of tricky jargon to the untrained eye. There were times when laws were far less encompassing for many citizens than they are today; a time when industrial tycoons shoveled flesh and bone into the assembly lines and coal mines of an adolescent industrial age nation.

Upton Sinclair’s muckraking exposé The Jungle is a popular artifact chronicling shockingly poor conditions for workers in the meatpacking industry at the turn of the century. Such narratives pushed worker’s rights issues into the political sphere of the day and lead to a multitude of regulations guarding against severe safety violations and mistreatment of workers by careless management.

One segment of legislation, which started in the early twentieth century and evolved over the years, is worker’s compensation benefits (often referred to short-hand as “worker’s comp”). All full-time and part-time employees are guaranteed some type of worker’s comp; however, the details are a tangled web.  Worker’s comp benefits may vary depending on number of hours; and, in some cases, such as contract employees, worker’s may receive no worker’s comp benefits at all.
It is important to know your rights and understand which worker’s comp benefits apply to you.

Types of Compensation Granted to Injured Workers

Workers compensation claims vary depending on the nature and severity of an injury and can be different for full-time and part-time workers. Workers who are employed on a contract basis, or in informal or unlicensed work settings, are not eligible for worker’s comp.
Worker’s comp basically ensures a worker’s ability to collect income, in the event of injury on the job, without needing to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the employer. The terms of worker’s compensation also waives the worker’s right to sue their employer over the injury, but it is pretty much evened out when taking in account legal fees and uncertainty of filing a lawsuit.
Worker’s comp covers medical expenses incurred from a work-related injury, provides income during recovery time, can provide future earnings, physical therapy and retraining if a worker should need to change jobs. If a worker is killed on the job worker’s comp benefits will pay for the funeral and provide some compensation to the worker’s family.
Speak to your manager or a legal staff member—if your employer has one—about which worker’s comp benefits apply specifically to you, if you should be injured on the job.

Getting Workers Compensation

In the event of an injury, the injured worker—or a representative for that person—must file a worker’s comp claim with the employer. Worker’s comp claims are usually handled through the employer’s legal department or human resources department. Worker’s comp will pay for all injuries sustained during employment hours, including short-term accidents and long-term hazardous exposure, such as hearing loss or carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • If you are injured on the way to work or on the way home, you will not be covered by worker’s comp laws.
  • Once your worker’s comp claim has been filed, you will need to complete an independent medical examination with a doctor. This should be set up by your employer with a doctor who is covered by your employer’s health insurance policy.

Types of Disability Classifications for Worker’s Compensation Claims

After an injured worker’s compensation claims have been settled and the worker is receiving benefits, the worker will be assigned one of two statuses: Temporary Partial Disability of Permanent Partial Disability.

  • Temporary Partial Disability allows the worker to return to his/her job, but with a lightened work load.
  • Permanent Partial Disability affirms that the injury is permanent but not severe enough to change the worker’s ability to perform their duties.

Again, worker’s compensation is an important tool for a worker’s recovery and return to the workplace after an injury. But, it is important to understand the law and know your options. In cases of severe injury, and where the employer may have been negligent in the operation of their enterprise, civil litigation may be a more appropriate action.
Worker’s comp will pay only a limited amount—usually and equivalent to lost earnings and medical expenses. Worker’s comp will not cover expenses that happen years later. And by accepting worker’s comp benefits you can waive your right to file a lawsuit against your employer for the specific injury you received worker’s compensation for.

Featured images:

License: Royalty Free or iStock
Michael runs a site about workers compensation.  He helps educate both employers and employees about workers comp rights.

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