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Workers compensation

Who Qualifies for Workers' Comp Benefits?

Written by
A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
Published February 13, 2024
Updated April 10, 2024
4 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.

See if you qualify

Most companies are required by law to have workers’ compensation insurance, which pays for medical bills and lost wages when an employee is injured on the job. Employees don’t have to pay for workers’ comp — that’s the company’s responsibility — but not all workers are eligible for benefits. This guide explains who is eligible for workers’ comp and what to do if you run into any issues getting the benefits you’re entitled to.

Who qualifies for workers' compensation benefits?

Employees can qualify for workers’ compensation — including full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers — but contractors cannot. As long as your employer offers workers’ comp coverage and you need to miss work due to a work-related injury, you are eligible for benefits.

Whether you’re an employee or a contract depends on how your employer classifies you for tax purposes.

A good rule of thumb is that if your employer removes taxes from your paychecks and you get a W-2 form during tax season, you qualify for workers’ comp through your employer. If your employer doesn’t withhold taxes from your pay and you get a 1099 form during tax season (like Form 1099-NEC or 1099-MISC), you are classified as a contractor and do not qualify for benefits through that employer.

In all cases, the best thing you can do is to quickly report the injury to your employer and then start the filing process.

Types of workers who do and don’t qualify

Type of worker

Do you qualify for workers’ comp?*

Full-time employee


Part-time employee


Temporary employee


Seasonal employee


Independent contractor




Freelance worker


Gig worker



No (some exceptions exist)

Workers paid in cash or under the table


*Even if your employer’s plan doesn’t cover you, you may be able to purchase a workers’ compensation policy for yourself.

See what workers' comp benefits you qualify for.

Who doesn’t qualify for workers’ comp benefits?

As explained above, anyone who isn’t an employee won’t qualify for workers’ compensation through their employer. It doesn’t matter what injury you have, how much you earn, or how long you’ve worked for that employer.

The following are examples of people who do not qualify for workers’ comp through their employer:

  • Consultants

  • Freelancers

  • Gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers

  • Independent contractors

  • Workers paid in cash

  • Workers paid under the table

Even if the company you contract for does offer workers’ compensation to its employees, you will not qualify because you are not legally classified as an employee.

How to know if you’re an employee or a contractor

The difference between an employee and contractor isn’t always clear and legal definitions change over time — especially with workers in the gig economy. Regardless of how your employer classifies you, you qualify for employee benefits (like workers’ comp) if you meet your state or the federal definition of an employee. So if your employer says you’re a contractor but treats you like an employee, you can get the benefits of an employee.

As a contractor:

  • You set your own work hours.

  • You control where you perform your work duties.

  • You decide or control the equipment you use.

If your employer controls where you work, when you have to work, and the equipment you must use to do your job, you may qualify as an employee. Your state workers’ compensation board may have a more specific definition and the United States Department of Labor has also covered some myths about what makes someone a contractor.

Ultimately, unless your employee agrees to reclassify you, working with an attorney may be the best way to fight for benefits.

Common traits for an independent contractor vs. employee



Your employer withholds taxes from your pay.

Your employer doesn’t withhold taxes from your pay.

You get a Form W-2 during tax season.

You get a Form 1099 during tax season.

You have access to company benefits — health insurance, 401(k), etc.

You do not have access to company benefits.

Your employer sets your work hours and location.

You have control over where and when you work.

Exceptions: workers who sometimes qualify

Some workers may be eligible for workers’ comp depending on state-specific policies. Here are some examples:

  • Non-profit employees: In New York, non-profit employees with specific religious or educational duties can’t get workers’ comp, while all other regular non-profit employees can get benefits.

  • Volunteers for certain employers: New York lets volunteers and family members at for-profit businesses get workers’ comp benefits.1 In Ohio, public employers like state government organizations can choose to cover their volunteers.

  • Volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel: Volunteers for firehouses and other organizations that offer emergency services may qualify for workers’ comp. For example, California workers’ compensation covers volunteer firefighters, and Ohio covers volunteer police officers and emergency medical technicians.2

Some employees also receive benefits through a separate system and not through their state’s workers’ comp program:

Do all companies offer workers’ compensation?

Almost all companies in the United States that have employees are required to have workers’ compensation insurance. It’s mandatory insurance coverage meant to support employees and employers after workplace injuries.

The main exceptions are that Texas and South Dakota don’t require employers to have workers’ comp coverage. Many employers still opt to have it, though.

If you’re unsure whether your employer offers coverage, ask your boss, supervisor, or someone on the human resources team. For companies that operate in multiple states, it’s best to ask someone about your specific location since it’s possible to have different insurance companies in different states.

What about people who live and work in different states?

You can still get benefits if you work in a different state than where you live, but where you should apply depends on your situation. As an example, long-distance truck drivers may need to apply in their state of residence or the state where their contracting company is based. State laws also vary. For instance, Ohio workers’ comp law allows an employee who lives out of state to get benefits in Ohio if they work for an Ohio employer for 90 days or more.

Reporting your injury to your employer is the most important first step. Your boss, supervisor, or human resources team may know where you should then file a claim.

We also recommend talking to a workers’ compensation lawyer because jurisdiction questions like this get complicated quickly. Your initial consultation is free and since they understand local labor laws, they’ll be able to advise you on which state to apply in.

Get a professional opinion on your eligibility

If you have any questions about filing for workers’ compensation, you can receive professional advice from a workers’ comp lawyer. They can answer questions about whether you’re covered under your state rules, what to do if you’re misclassified, where and when to apply, plus how to navigate the system and deal with the insurance company.

Your initial call with a lawyer is also free. If you agree to work with them, there are no upfront fees and you never pay anything until after they help you win benefits or get a settlement.

Atticus is a workers’ comp law firm with local lawyers across the country. To understand whether you qualify and connect with a lawyer today, take a few minutes to fill out our workers’ comp eligibility quiz. Someone from our team will reach out to learn more about your situation and answer your questions.

See what workers' comp benefits you qualify for.

Frequently asked questions about workers’ comp eligibility

Does every company have workers’ comp?

Almost all employers are required by law to have workers’ comp. Texas and South Dakota don’t require it, but many companies still have it. Ask your boss, supervisor, or HR department if you’re unsure whether your company has coverage.

Do all workers qualify for workers’ comp?

Employees are eligible for workers’ comp benefits after a work injury. That includes full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees, but not independent contractors.

How do I know if I’m an independent contractor or employee?

Ask your employer how they classify you for legal and tax purposes. State definitions also vary, but independent contractors have control over where and when they work. If you think you’re misclassified, contact a workers’ comp attorney for advice on next steps.

What if I get injured in a state where I don’t live?

You’re still eligible for workers’ comp benefits, but where you should file a claim depends on your situation. Start by reporting the injury to your employer, who may also know better where you should file. Otherwise, the best option is to talk to a workers’ compensation attorney for more specific advice.

What is a workers’ comp injury?

Any work-related injury, illness, or aggravation of a preexisting condition can qualify for workers’ comp as long as it resulted from doing your job duties. Learn more in our breakdown of qualifying workers’ comp injuries.

How do I file for workers’ comp?

First, notify your employer of the injury within your state’s reporting deadline. In most states, your employer will start the filing process and send you any forms you need to fill out. Find more specific information in our state-by-state guide to filing a claim.

See what you qualify for

How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?


  1. 1.
    For-Profit Businesses,” New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, accessed February 13, 2024, https://www.wcb.ny.gov/content/main/coverage-requirements-wc/for-profit-business.jsp.
  2. 2.
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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