If you’re currently employed full-time or part-time at a business with a physical location (such as a store, an office, or a warehouse), you should know what workers’ compensation is—and how it works. Unfortunately, few employers give their employees the full information about how this insurance works, and what its ramifications are.

Knowing the details and limits of workers’ compensation is vital if you want to respond appropriately to any workplace injury or accident.

The Basics

While each state has different legal requirements for workers’ compensation, for the most part, workers’ comp is mandatory. Your employer is required to purchase workers’ comp insurance in the event that anyone is injured on the job. You may want to look up the specific requirements for your state if you aren’t familiar with them, but the basics carry across the nation.

Fault and Liability

Workers’ comp applies to any workplace injury, regardless of who is at fault. You can file a workers’ comp claim for virtually any injury you sustain while on the job, including equipment-related injuries, strains, cuts, and accidents. However, if you file a workers’ comp claim, you may waive your right to file a third-party liability claim; if your injury is the direct result of someone else’s negligence, or the fault of your employer, it may be better to seek legal action. Consult with a lawyer before making a final decision.

Types of Benefits

Workers’ comp will afford you multiple benefits:

  • Medical benefits. First and most commonly known, you’ll receive medical benefits to compensate you for whatever services it takes to restore your health. You’ll be compensated for hospital visits, doctor’s visits, medical supplies, and ongoing services (like physical therapy) that you need to get back in shape.
  • Disability benefits. If you’re forced to stop working for any period of time, you’ll likely qualify for disability benefits as well. Workers’ comp will replace some or all of your lost wages as you recover from your injury.
  • Reemployment benefits. In some cases, you may receive reemployment benefits. This form of compensation will help you get back to work, such as finding a new position within the company that can accommodate your injury.
  • Death benefits. In the unfortunate event of your death, your surviving family will receive death benefits. These may take the form of a lump-sum payment, or a series of payments to replace your lost wages after your death, depending on the employer’s policy.

What to Do in Case of Injury

Your knowledge of workers’ compensation is only valuable if and when you or a coworker faces an injury at work. Accordingly, you should know the most important steps to take in the immediate wake of a workplace injury:

  • Provide or call for immediate assistance. Immediate assistance must come first, especially in the event of an emergency situation. Call for help if you need it, or provide assistance to the injured employee. Workers’ comp doesn’t need to be filed immediately, so prioritize getting the victim to safety and contacting emergency services (if necessary).
  • Document whatever you can. Once the victim’s safety is assured, start documenting everything you can, taking photos of the scene and getting access to witnesses in the nearby area. This information will be valuable if legal action is filed.
  • Notify a supervisor. When possible, notify your immediate supervisor of the injury. They may have additional steps that need to be taken in accordance with company policies, and may provide you with paperwork to fill out for a workers’ comp claim.
  • Contact an attorney. Before finalizing a workers’ comp claim, consider contacting an attorney. If negligence was a factor in the incident, you may be able to file a third-party liability claim, rather than opting for workers’ comp benefits alone.
  • File a claim soon (if you decide to). If you’re going to file a workers’ comp claim, make sure you do it within a few days of the initial injury. Each state has a different deadline for filing; if you wait too long, you may disqualify yourself from receiving benefits.

Workers’ compensation is designed to protect employees from injury and death in the workplace. While the specifics may vary from state to state and from employer to employer, the basics are almost universally the same. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to respond to any workplace injury more efficiently, and maximize your chances of getting the benefits you deserve.

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