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.
When you get injured at work, your first step is to report the injury to your employer. If you later want to apply for workers’ comp, you generally aren’t eligible if you didn’t notify your employer within a few days of the injury.
So how do you actually report your injury? The “who,” “when,” and “how” of your report matter. Follow the best practices in this guide to set yourself up for success in case you need to move forward with a workers’ compensation claim down the line.
How to report an injury at work
The way you report your injury is one of the most important details to get right. Give your employer a written notice of your injury, like a letter that you signed and dated.
Include these details in your notice:
Your name, address, phone number, and any additional contact information
The date and time of your injury
The location your injury happened — include the address if you have it
Basic details of how the injury happened
The specific injuries, illnesses, or symptoms that resulted from your injury
The workdays you’ve missed because of your condition
When your workplace injury causes a medical emergency, it’s hard or impossible to give written notice right away. Give your employer verbal notice — ideally with witnesses present — as soon as possible. You can follow up later with a written document.
Or maybe you let your employer know about your injury verbally without realizing you should have done so in writing. You can still follow up with a letter and say you wrote it to keep for both of your records.
After you write your notice, make an extra copy for yourself. It’s common for employers or their insurance companies to challenge workers’ comp claims by saying the employee didn’t provide notice quickly enough. You can easily disprove that if you keep a dated copy of your injury notice.
States that require a written report for workers’ comp
It’s not always easy to give your employer a written report right away, but 21 states require you to report your workplace injury in writing. If you don't give that written notice to your employer in time, you may not qualify for benefits no matter how serious your injury is. In other states, giving oral notice of your injury should be enough, be we still recommend giving written notice if it's possible.
These 21 states require written notice for work injuries:
Report your injury to the highest-level person available at your job. This person could be your boss, manager, shift supervisor, department head, the company owner, or CEO.
How long do you have to report a workplace injury?
Timeliness in reporting an injury matters. If you wait too long, you will lose eligibility for workers’ comp. So let your employer know about your condition as soon as possible —
Each state’s reporting deadlines differ, so you may have more than a few days depending on where you live. For example, California and New York have a 30-day time limit. Meanwhile, the workers’ comp in Massachusetts requires employers to report within 7 days of the employee’s fifth day of illness, with no specific requirement for employees (besides as soon as possible).
If you have a condition that formed over time, like carpal tunnel syndrome or an illness resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals, provide notice as soon as you find out you have it and that it’s connected to your work.
After your injury, when you report it to your employer, it can help to talk with other people who saw the incident happen. If possible, ask them to give you a short written statement of what happened. Keep those statements for your records. You may never need them but if your employer’s insurance challenges your claim — like by saying you weren’t actually working during the injury — eye-witness accounts can help you win workers’ comp benefits.
Who qualifies for workers’ comp?
Workers’ comp rules vary by state but you can usually qualify if you get injured or sick at work and need to miss time because of your injury or illness. You need to miss a certain amount of time before you can qualify for benefits, which include weekly payments and your employer’s insurance paying for all necessary medical care.
If you get hurt on the job and miss work time because of it, you may qualify for workers’ comp benefits. It doesn’t matter if the injury was your fault, your employer’s, or someone else’s.
The types of injuries that could make you eligible include:
One-time injuries, including accidents that are your fault
Preexisting injuries that are aggravated by an event or exposure at your workplace
Injuries that develop over time due to workplace conditions, like back pain from repetitive actions at work
Conditions caused by exposure to certain situations or substances at work, like asbestos-related lung disease or asthma
Most state policies require you to miss a certain amount of time from work due to your condition to qualify for workers’ comp. In these states, an injury that keeps you out of work for a day or two wouldn’t count but one that has you miss multiple weeks would.
The workers’ comp filing process varies by state, but your first step always is to give your employer notice.
From there, you’ll typically need to submit a form to your state or its workers’ compensation board. You may have the option to file online or your employer will give you a physical form to fill out after you report your injury. In some states (like Massachusetts) your employer even files the claim for you.
Information you need to file a claim
Common information you need to provide on a workers’ comp claim form includes:
The date of your injury
Where your injury happened
Details about your injury and your symptoms
Your job earnings
If you work any other jobs
Witnesses to your injury
You may have noticed that these are many of the same details in your notice to your employer. By getting the important details of your injury in writing early on, you’ll have them on hand when you file your claim.
The best place to get help with a claim is by talking with a workers’ comp lawyer. A lawyer who specializes in workers’ comp can help you at any stage of the process, whether you need to file a claim, get medical care for your injury, or go to a hearing to prove your injury requires you to miss work.
A lawyer can manage the smaller details that help you build your case, like gathering evidence, keeping up with filing and appeal deadlines, or just explaining how the system works.
Lawyers can also help you get the maximum possible benefits. Payouts for workers with a lawyer are five times higher, on average, compared to people who go through the process on their own.
If you’re unsure whether a lawyer could help your case, take our 2-minute workers’ comp quiz. We’ll help you understand if you qualify for benefits and whether a lawyer could help your case. Our services are free and you never have to pay the lawyer unless they help you win benefits.
Maximize your workers' comp benefits.
Frequently asked questions about workers’ comp
How does workers’ comp work?
The workers’ comp process starts when you report your work injury or illness to your employer. Then you have to file a claim within a certain amount of time so you can qualify for weekly payments and reimbursement of your medical bills while you recover.
Can I get workers’ comp if the injury was my fault?
Yes. You can qualify for workers’ comp no matter whose fault the injury or illness was, as long as it happened while you were doing your job. Our guide to qualifying accidents and injuries will help you see if you could get coverage.
Do all workers qualify for workers’ comp?
You're probably eligible for workers’ comp if your employer withholds taxes from your paychecks. Independent contractors don’t usually qualify, but states may offer coverage to certain contractors, volunteers, or seasonal workers. Check with your state workers’ comp board to see exactly who qualifies in your area.
Not everyone needs to work with a lawyer, but a workers’ comp lawyer can especially help if your claim is denied, if you get a settlement offer, or even if your claim just lasts for more than a few months. Here are some situations when a lawyer can help you.
No, workers’ comp benefits aren’t taxable. That's true whether you get weekly payments, a lump-sum settlement, or a settlement with a structured payment plan.
See what you qualify for
How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?
Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
See if you qualify
How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?
At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.
There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.
Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)