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Workers compensation

What Should You Do if You're Injured at Work?

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
December 8, 2022  ·  5 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 sick or injured at work, notify your employer and make sure to get all necessary medical care. If your injury keeps you out of work, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits — coverage for healthcare costs and weekly payments to make up for lost wages. But to get this assistance, it’s important to act quickly and take the proper steps.

3 steps you should take if you’re injured at work

If you get injured at work, there are three main steps you should take:

  1. Report the injury to your employer

  2. Get medical care

  3. File for workers’ comp if you're eligible

1. Report the injury to your employer

Find the highest-level person at your work who you have contact with — your boss, manager, supervisor, etc. — and tell them you were injured on the job. Ideally you notify them with a written document so you have a record of when you told them.

If your injury is serious enough that you need to miss work while you recover, you may qualify for workers’ comp, but only if you’ve notified your employer of your injury. In some states you only have a few days after the date of the injury to notify your employer. Failing to do so could mean you can’t get the workers’ comp benefits you deserve.

2. Get necessary medical care

In the event of a medical emergency, getting proper care should be your first priority. (Because of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans are required to cover essential emergency services.)

If possible, notify your employer about your injury or illness and then get the medical care you need. Your employer may refer you to a doctor who’s in their insurance’s network and who handles work injury cases.

States also have different rules about the doctors you can see under workers’ comp coverage. For example, Massachusetts workers’ comp rules require you to see a doctor in your employer’s insurance’s network for the first visit.

3. File for workers’ comp if you’re eligible

You may be eligible for workers’ compensation in your state if you get injured at work, need to miss time to recover, and you notify your employer soon enough. Workers’ comp will pay you weekly benefits to cover any wages you lose because your injury keeps you out of work. Your employer’s insurance will also cover all necessary medical care as you recover from your injury.

Learn more in our complete guide to workers’ compensation.

How do you notify your employer of your injury?

Tell your employer about your injury or illness using a written statement as soon as possible. Write an email or a dated letter that says when you were injured and how the injury happened.

Follow up with your employer to make sure they received your notice and keep a copy for your records. As you go through the workers' comp process, a paper trail will help you get the benefits you deserve. For example, if your employer claims you never notified them of an injury, you’ll have clear proof that you did.

Is a verbal notice enough?

Even if you already told your employer in person or over the phone about your injury, you should also give them a written notification.

If you only notify your employer verbally and then they challenge your workers’ comp claim by saying you didn’t notify them in enough time to qualify, you’ll have a hard time getting benefits.

How long do you have to notify your employer?

Most states put a time limit on when you can report your injury, so move quickly. To qualify for workers’ comp in California, for example, you must notify your employer within 30 days of your incident. In other states, like Colorado, you only have four days.

If you need immediate emergency care for your injury, try to notify a higher-up of your injury or ask someone else to tell them on your behalf before you leave the workplace.

Who can get workers' comp?

In most states, full-time and part-time employees are eligible to receive workers’ comp benefits, but every state has its own laws. Some states also allow seasonal workers to receive benefits.

Independent contractors usually can’t get workers’ comp. If you aren’t sure whether you qualify as an independent contractor, check your taxes to see if your employer withholds taxes from your paycheck. Your employer withholding taxes is one good sign you aren’t actually an independent contractor.

Certain states also have unique qualifications for independent contractors. For example, New York workers’ comp rules include different criteria for independent contractors in transportation and construction than they do for other industries.

What qualifies as a work injury?

Any injury or illness that happens as a result of fulfilling your job duties or doing work-related activities counts as a work injury. It doesn’t matter whose fault the injury was, though certain circumstances — like being drunk on the job — could leave you ineligible.

Some work injuries that can qualify for workers’ comp include

  • One-time incidents: Injuries that result from accidents and other one-time events count for workers’ comp, even if they happen due to a mistake on your part.

  • Exposure to a harmful substance: If you get sick from exposure to a harmful substance at work — like asbestos or chemicals — you can qualify for workers’ comp.

  • Aggravation of a preexisting injury or illness: You're eligible for workers' comp when a work incident or your work conditions make your existing illness or injury worse.

  • Repetitive strain from long-term activities: Some injuries come from repetitive actions, like a back injury from lifting boxes for years. They count, too. Make sure to tell your employer of the injury as soon as you learn that injury is a result of your work.

Can you get fired for filing a workers’ comp claim?

It is illegal for your employer to fire you because you filed a workers' comp claim. Your employer also can’t retaliate against you — like by decreasing your hours or cutting your pay. If your employer fires you for filing a claim, you have the right to sue them. An employment lawyer can help you with this type of case.

Do you still get paid if you get injured at work?

If you can’t go back to work because of your injury and your employer won’t pay you during the missed time, you can get workers' comp payments to cover the lost wages. File your workers’ comp claim as soon as possible to get wage coverage.

How much does workers' comp pay?

Workers’ compensation in most states is worth two-thirds of the average weekly pay you received at the time of your injury. 

The exact amount you receive varies by state. States generally set minimum or maximum payment amounts. It’s also common for states to pay based on the type of injury you have and the severity of your injury. How long your injury requires you to miss work also makes a difference. Short-term and long-term workers’ comp payments aren’t always the same amount.

Another major benefit of workers’ comp is that it covers medical expenses as you recover from your injury or illness, including appointment copays, medical procedures, prescription medications, medical aids or devices, and mileage for travel to appointments.

Can you work and get workers’ comp at the same time?

You can only qualify for workers’ comp if your injury prevents you from being able to do your full job duties or work your full hours. In some cases, if your injury prevents you from doing all the job activities you used to do, you may be able to go back to work in a reduced role and still get workers’ comp benefits.

Not all jobs offer reduced roles and going back to full work duties before you’ve completely recovered will mean losing benefits. If you have a second job, you may also need to stop performing duties for that job to qualify for wage benefits.

To understand if you could work without losing benefits, the best option is to talk with a workers’ comp lawyer.

Where can you get help with a workers’ comp claim?

If you have any questions or issues with your claim, a local workers’ comp lawyer can help you. They’ll know how to guide you through every stage of the claim process, from filing to doctor visits to receiving long-term payments.

Here are a few more situations a lawyer could help you with:

  • Increasing your benefits: A lawyer will work to get you the highest payment possible, whether you’re getting weekly payments or your employer wants you to accept one lump-sum settlement.

  • Fighting a denied claim: If your employer’s insurance denies your workers’ comp claim, your lawyer will help you build a case to fight for payments and benefits you deserve.

  • Building evidence for your case: If your claim is ever denied or your employer’s insurance needs more proof of your injury, a lawyer knows what evidence to track down and how to document it to make the best case for your claim.

  • Understanding the workers’ comp process: The workers’ comp process involves meeting multiple deadlines, filling out forms, following up with doctor visits, and sometimes collecting evidence for a hearing. Your lawyer will be there to guide you through everything and keep you on track.

Not sure if you should hire a lawyer? Let Atticus help you. Take our quick workers’ comp quiz and we can connect you with an experienced lawyer for free.

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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