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Workers compensation

How to Report a Workplace Injury

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
December 14, 2022  ·  6 min read
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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.

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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:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas (on Form AR-N)
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada (on Form C-1)
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Who you should report a workplace injury to

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.

See how long you have with our state-by-state guide to reporting deadlines for work injuries.


Do you need to talk to witnesses?

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.

Further reading: What to Do if Your Workers' Comp Claim is Denied


What injuries qualify for workers’ comp?

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.

Think you qualify for workers’ comp? Start with our guide on what you should do if you’re injured at work.


How to file a workers’ comp claim

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.

For more help, we have a guide on how long you have to file a workers' comp claim in every state.


Where to get help with a workers’ comp 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.

How much does workers’ comp pay?

Workers’ compensation is generally worth up to two-thirds of your pre-injury wages, but exact rates vary by state. Read more about how much workers’ comp pays in each state.

Do I need a workers’ comp lawyer?

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.

How long do workers’ comp benefits last?

How long your benefits last varies by state, but you usually have until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). There are also long-term options if you can’t return to work after injury.

Is workers’ comp taxable?

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?

A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

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.
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