Atticus offers free, high-quality workers' compensation advice to those injured at work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and help thousands of Americans get the benefits they deserve each year.
If something happens to you while you’re on the job, you want to know there’s some safety net. When you get hurt at work, you can most likely still collect some income, plus help paying for medical bills from your injury. It will come in the form of workers’ comp benefits instead of your normal paycheck, though.
We built this guide to help you navigate your options if you get injured on the job or suffer from a work-related illness. Specifically, we’ll explore how workers’ compensation can help you get paid.
Can you keep collecting your normal paycheck?
Very few employers will keep paying you normally if you get hurt and can’t work. Even if they feel bad about your situation, they’ve got a business to run and may not be able to afford it. Employers also pay for workers’ comp insurance to help employees through this exact situation.
You might have a short-term solution if you have unused sick days or vacation days, but not all employees in the U.S. have access to paid vacation and you might exhaust yours quickly. Even among people with paid vacation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most have 10-19 days. So this option might buy you a few weeks, but it’s not a long-term fix.
Once you run out of sick days and vacation days, you do have another option for collecting some form of income: workers’ comp.
When can you use workers’ comp?
Every state except for Texas requires employers to carry workers’ compensation. This type of insurance is designed to step in if an employee gets hurt on the job and can’t work because of it. By “step in,” we mean this policy can financially help you in two ways:
Medical care: First, the workers’ comp policy will pay for the medical care you need to help you recover from your injury or illness. That means it covers doctor’s visits, medications, and even surgeries.
Generally, to qualify for workers’ compensation coverage, you need to meet the following criteria:
You get hurt or sick in the course of your job. The incident doesn’t need to happen on company property, but you need to be actively working for your employer at the time.
You are an employee of the company and not an independent contractor, consultant, or freelancer.
How to tell if you’re a contractor or an employee
The easiest way to tell if your employer classifies you as an employee or a contractor is to check the tax forms they send you. If you get a W-2 form, you’re legally an employee and you should be covered under the company’s workers’ comp policy. Even if you don’t get a W-2, you may get a similar form that shows your employer takes taxes out of your pay. That’s a good sign you’re an employee.
If you get a 1099 form, the company classifies you as an independent contractor and you won’t qualify for their workers’ comp coverage if you get hurt.
That said, if you’re getting a 1099 form but you think you should be classified as an employee, you may be right. First, check to see if your state has specific laws on what differentiates an employee from a contractor. Next, talk to your company to see if they’ll voluntarily reclassify you.
If that doesn’t work, you can file Form SS-8 with the IRS, and then a tax professional will officially determine how you should be classified. Your state may also offer a way to challenge an employer who miss-classifies you as a contractor.
If the IRS determines you’re technically an employee of the company, you are eligible for coverage under a workers’ comp policy.
How much does workers’ compensation pay?
The size of the workers’ comp income replacement check you’ll get depends on where you live because your state laws dictate how this kind of insurance works.
In most states, you’ll get a weekly check worth two-thirds of your normal weekly pay. So if you normally make $50,000 a year (about $961.54 a week), your weekly workers’ comp income replacement check will probably look something like $644.
When you will start getting workers’ comp payments
Unfortunately, you don’t start getting these checks right after you get hurt, and you can’t collect them forever. Most states have a 3-day to 7-day waiting period before this income replacement kicks in. But that’s where your unused sick or vacation days can come in handy, helping you avoid days with no income. In some states, after you’ve missed a certain amount of time, you’ll also get paid the days you missed during the waiting period (unless you already got paid for that time, like if you took paid vacation days).
Generally, you can expect the weekly income replacement checks to keep coming until your workers’ comp doctor determines that you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is the point when you have recovered as much as possible. That usually means a full recovery, but you may have a permanent condition or disability and won’t recover to your full pre-injury ability.
Essentially, this means you can keep getting paid while you get better and until you get better. Once you stop improving, you’ll need to either head back to work (assuming you’re able) or look into negotiating a settlement.
What can you do if your workers’ comp claim is denied?
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for injured employers to file a workers’ comp claim only to have the insurance company deny it. The insurer could try to argue that you didn’t get hurt while working or that you didn’t meet other requirements for coverage.
If this happens to you, the best thing you can do is get a lawyer. This pro can help you file an appeal and argue on your behalf — and you don’t need to pay them upfront or out-of-pocket. They don’t get paid until you get paid, and they then get a percentage of whatever benefits they win for you.
That motivates them to work hard to get you the largest possible payout as quickly as possible. In fact, people who hire a workers’ comp lawyer receive five times as much in workers’ comp benefits, on average, as people who skip legal counsel.
How to get legal help
A workers’ comp lawyer can help you with the application and appeals process, and secure the maximum benefits as fast as possible. If your workers’ comp claim was denied, you don’t think your payments are as high as they should be, the insurance company wants you to agree to a settlement, or you’re having an issue with your workers’ comp doctor, take our quick workers’ comp questionnaire. That way, our team can match you with a qualified workers’ comp lawyer in your area.
Getting matched is totally free and so is your initial consultation. If you do choose to work with the lawyer, you won’t need to pay them until you win benefits. And even then, their payment comes out of the benefits they win you, not out of your own savings.
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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