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.
After a workplace injury, workers’ compensation insurance will replace some of your wages and cover the cost of medical care while you recover. This guide breaks down the workers’ comp process in California. It answers common questions that our lawyers hear about who qualifies, what injuries qualify, and what benefits you should expect. Along the way, we note areas where you could run into issues, and provide advice for navigating the process.
What is workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation is insurance that employers must legally buy to help pay medical bills and lost wages for employees who get sick or injured on the job. Employees do not need to pay for workers’ comp insurance. Their employer is the one who needs to buy it, and almost every California business with employees needs to have the insurance.
Each state sets its own workers’ comp rules, and while the programs are all similar, they do differ. Always look for California-specific answers when you can. If ever you need help with benefits, the Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC) is the official workers’ comp board for the state. Your next best option is to talk with a California workers’ comp lawyer. (With a good lawyer, your first consultation is free and you never pay anything upfront.)
See what workers' comp benefits you qualify for.
Who can get California workers’ comp benefits?
As a general rule, you can qualify for workers’ comp if you’re an employee (not an independent contractor), you get injured or sick on the job, and a doctor says that you can’t do your usual job duties for at least three days while you recover.
More specifically, you can qualify for California workers’ compensation if you meet one of the following three scenarios:
A work injury or illness requires overnight hospitalization.
The treating doctor of your work injury says that you won’t be able to do your usual job for at least three days.
You can continue working but your work injury doesn’t allow you to do your usual job, and your employer doesn’t offer you other work that pays the same as your usual rate.
Workers who qualify
Regular employees can qualify for workers’ comp in California, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers. You can also get workers’ comp in California even if you aren’t a legal resident of California or the United States.1 Municipal workers can qualify through the state of California.
If you get a W-2 from your employer during tax season, that’s a good sign that you’re eligible for workers’ comp.
If you live or work in another state, it my be better to file for benefits in another state. For example, a truck driver who regularly delivers in California may want to file for benefits in the state where their contracting company is based. Legal jurisdiction is complicated so the best option is to contact a workers’ comp lawyer.
Workers who don’t qualify
You won’t qualify for workers’ comp if you’re an independent contractor, freelancer, gig worker, or volunteer. If you get a 1099 from your employer during tax season (like Form 1099-NEC or 1099-MISC) then your employer classifies you as an independent contractor.
Enter the coverage date you want (like maybe the date of your injury) and your employer’s name or their federal employer identification number (FEIN).
The tool should return a list of companies that match your search criteria. If you only entered a company name, you may get more than one result with similar names. You can get more specific results by adding an address, but that only works if you know the address listed on the company’s insurance policy. The tool also includes some tips to help you narrow down the results.
If you can’t find your employer, it’s possible they’re self-insured and not included in that database. Reach out to your boss or human resources department for more information.
The California workers’ comp process in 5 steps
The five steps below explain the basics of the California workers’ compensation process. The specifics of your case could affect what happens at each step, but this is what you should expect:
Receive emergency care if necessary.
Report the injury to your employer.
File a workers’ comp claim.
Get medical treatment.
Return to work, sign a settlement, or get permanent disability benefits.
1. Receive emergency care if necessary
If your injury requires emergency medical attention, get the necessary case as soon as possible. Your employer may be able to send you to a doctor in their network, but you have a right to go to an emergency room for care.
Make sure to tell the doctor or medical provider that you have a work injury, so they can bill your employer instead of you. California law requires your employer to pay for up to $10,000 of medical care even before your workers’ comp claim is approved or denied.2
2. Report the injury to your employer
Regardless of anything else, you can’t qualify for workers’ comp benefits unless you report your injury to your employer within 30 days of the injury date. Your report needs to be in writing. If your injury wasn’t caused by a single event, notify your employer within 30 days of when you know the injury is work-related (like when you get doctor confirmation).
After you report your injury, your employer has one work day to give (or mail) you form DWC 1. Fill out the employee portion of this form and return it to your employer so they can fill out their portion. Your employer will officially file a claim with their insurance company. You don’t need to file the claim yourself or apply for anything.
4. Get medical treatment.
Once your claim is approved, the insurance company will pay for all medical care that is necessary for your recovery. What’s necessary is determined by your primary treating physician (PTP). That’s a workers’ comp doctor who will diagnose your injury and create a treatment plan for your recovery.
5. Return to work, sign a settlement, or get permanent disability benefits
If you recover fully, you can return to work and your workers’ comp claim will end. If you reach maximum improvement but have a permanent disability, your doctor will assign you an impairment or disability rating so you can transition to permanent disability benefits. It’s common at this point for the insurer to negotiate a settlement. We strongly recommend that you contact a lawyer before you sign any agreement.
You deserve a fair workers' comp settlement. Atticus can help.
How to file a workers’ comp claim in California
Before you can file a claim, you need to notify your employer of your injury, in writing, within 30 days. Report the injury to your boss, supervisor, shift manager, human resources department, or whoever you can. If you can only notify someone verbally at first, that’s fine but make sure to give written notice within 30 days.
After getting notice of your work injury, your employer should give you a Workers’ Compensation Claim Form (DWC 1) within one day. Complete the employee section, which asks for personal information and a description of your injury. Then return the form to your employer because there’s a section they need to fill out. If you need to mail this form to your employer, use certified mail with a return receipt requested — so that you have proof of delivery.
Once the form is completed and signed, your employer will submit the form to their insurance company to officially file a workers’ comp claim. You should also get a copy of the completed form to save for your records. The insurance company will have 14 days to notify you by mail whether it’s approving or denying your claim. Your contact from the insurance company is generally called the claims adjuster, claims examiner, or claims administrator.
Again, you shouldn’t need to file a claim yourself and you don’t need to apply for benefits. Your employer should handle the whole filing process yourself. If they refuse to or if you run into any issues, this is one area where a lawyer can keep the process moving.
You have one year from the date of your injury to file a workers’ compensation claim in California. However, your employer should file a claim very soon after you return Form DWC 1. If for any reason they don’t or if you decide not to file a claim immediately, make sure it happens within one year.
Can you get fired for filing a workers’ comp claim?
It’s illegal in California for your employer to fire you or threaten to fire you because you filed a workers’ comp claim or said you want to file a claim. Doing so would be treated as retaliation and you could take legal action against your employer. That legal action could result in reinstatement in your job, increased wages, and payments for any lost wages after your wrongful termination.
Similarly, you can take legal action if your employer fires you because you have a disability, because you did or didn’t agree to a settlement, or because you received a disability rating from your doctor. Those acts qualify as discrimination.
If you have been discriminated against or wrongfully terminated, talk to a local employment lawyer. But if you have issues with your workers’ compensation claim, like if your claim was denied and you want to appeal, talk to a workers’ comp lawyer.
What benefits does California workers’ comp include?
In California, workers’ compensation offers five main benefits:
Medical care paid by your employer’s insurance
Temporary disability benefits after an injury, paid every two weeks
Permanent disability benefits, paid weekly, if your temporary benefits run out but you don’t fully recover from your injury
Supplemental job displacement benefits to help you pay for new job training, certifications, or licenses if you have permanent disability
Death benefits for your spouse or dependents if you die from your injury
Temporary disability benefits are also referred to as wage replacement payments. They’re worth up to two-thirds (66 ⅔%) of your average weekly income.
For medical benefits, the insurance company will pay for all necessary medical bills while you recover. Necessary expenses include all treatment, specialist care, prescription medication, copays, travel for care, and other costs your workers’ comp doctor says are needed for you to recover. If you ever have a situation where the insurer denies coverage or refuses to pay certain medical bills, a lawyer can fight for the care you need.
How much are workers’ comp payments worth?
For injuries in 2024, workers’ comp payments (temporary disability) are worth up to two-thirds (66 ⅔%) of your average weekly wage (AWW) before your injury. The minimum possible payment is $242.86 and the maximum possible payment is about $1,619.4
If ever you feel your payment amount is incorrect, you can dispute your average weekly wage with the state workers’ comp board. A lawyer can guide you through the process.
Maximize your California workers' comp payout.
Types of workers’ comp payments in California
There are two main types of workers’ compensation payments in California: temporary disability (TD) and permanent disability (PD). Temporary benefits are what you get right after a work injury and permanent benefits are available if you never fully recover. At first, they’re both worth up to two-thirds (66 ⅔%) of your average weekly wage (AWW) before your injury.
You will begin receiving temporary disability (TD) benefits within 14 days of when your employer is notified of your injury or within 14 days of when your doctor says that your injury prevents you from being able to work. So if you have a condition that doesn’t keep you out of work immediately, you will have to wait longer to get your benefits.
There are two kinds of temporary disability benefits:
Temporary partial disability (TPD) payments are available if it’s possible for you to do some work after your injury, even if it’s a modified job.
Temporary total disability (TTD) is what you’ll get if you can’t work at all after your injury.
Permanent disability benefits are paid to workers who reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) but have not fully recovered to their pre-injury capabilities. If you’re unable to do the same work you did before your injury, it’s possible to qualify for permanent disability benefits.
At MMI your workers’ comp doctor will write a permanent & stationary report (P&S report) that explains your condition and any limitations you experience. They will also give you a disability rating or an impairment rating. The rating ranges from zero to 100 and is based on how much functionality you have lost in the parts of your body affected by your work injury.
Permanent disability benefits begin within two weeks of your temporary benefits ending and then you will receive payments every week. How much you get and how long the payments last will depend on the part of your body that was injured and your disability rating.
There are two kinds of permanent disability benefits:
Permanent partial disability (PPD) payments are the most common and you never recover to your pre-injury functionality or can’t do the same job duties you used to do.
Permanent total disability (PTD) benefits are available only if you can’t work at all after your injury. They’re more difficult to get than PPD and would require a disability rating of 100.
Temporary vs. permanent workers’ comp benefits
Partial permanent disability
Total permanent disability
When you qualify
A work-related injury or illness keeps you out of work for 3+ days or you’re hospitalized
You reach MMI but don’t fully recover from your injury
You will never be able to work again
How long it lasts
Up to 104 weeks (2 years) or up to 240 weeks in severe cases
Up to 1,596 weeks
The rest of your life
How much it pays
Up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage pre- injury
Up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage pre- injury
Up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage pre- injury
When payments start
Within 14 days of your employer documenting the injury
Within 14 days of temporary disability payments ending
Within 14 days of temporary disability payments ending
Every two weeks
When does workers' comp start paying lost wages?
In most cases in California, you should receive your first workers’ comp payment within 14 days of notifying your employer of your injury. Your payments will arrive every two weeks after that.
In some situations, insurance has 14 days from when your doctor says that your injury prevents you from being able to work. So if you have a condition that doesn’t keep you out of work immediately, you will have to wait longer to get your benefits. Also keep in mind that you can’t receive any payments until you’ve missed at least three days of work.
If you ever need to transition to permanent benefits, payments should start within 14 days of your temporary benefits ending.
What happens if your payments are late?
If your payments are going to arrive late, your claims administrator has to send you a letter explaining why you won’t receive your payment on time. If the administrator sends a late payment and it’s been at least 14 days since you filed your claim, you could have a right to an extra 10% or more of your payment.
Keep all letters you receive from the claims administrator. Also keep the envelopes from checks you receive in the mail because the postmark dates will make it easier to prove that a payment was sent late.
How to track your California workers’ comp check
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to track your workers’ comp checks in California. Contact your claims adjuster if you have a question about one of your payments, but it’s possible they’ll only give you a status update, like whether your check was mailed and the date on which it was mailed.
You can track the status of your claim in general through California’s jurisdiction claim number search. You’ll need to enter your insurer’s federal employer identification number, your claim number, and the date of your injury.
Is workers’ comp taxable?
No, your worker’s comp benefits aren’t taxable on your California state tax return or your federal tax return. If you receive any work income, like if you do light-duty work, that income is taxed as regular work income.
Can you receive California state disability and workers' comp
It’s possible to get state disability insurance (SDI) after a work injury, but you can’t receive SDI and workers’ comp at the same time. That means most injured workers won’t get SDI. But if you have any issues getting your workers’ comp benefits, we recommend applying for SDI just in case. Apply through the Employment Development Department (available in English and Spanish).
How long you can be on workers’ comp
In most cases, California allows you to receive workers’ comp until you reach maximum medical improvement. Your temporary disability payments can last up to 104 weeks (two years) if needed. In certain severe cases — like with amputations, severe burns, or high-velocity eye injuries — temporary disability lasts up to 240 weeks.
However, if your recovery looks like it will take years, the insurance company may offer a lump-sum settlement instead of regular benefits. We suggest finding a workers’ comp lawyer to help you negotiate a fair payout (otherwise you’ll have to negotiate on your own against the insurance company’s lawyers).
Permanent disability benefits could potentially last the rest of your life if you qualify for total permanent disability, but you’re unlikely to qualify unless you truly can never work again. Partial permanent disability benefits last up to a maximum of 1,596 weeks (more than 30 and a half years). And if you find yourself unable to work for the long term, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Can you work while on workers’ comp in California?
Yes, you can work while receiving workers’ comp, but you should only do work that has been approved by your treating physician. That may mean returning to work with reduced hours or in a slightly different role.
Your workers’ comp doctor has to create a medical report that explains what kinds of work you can do, including how your current job’s schedule or tasks would need to change. Make sure to review your doctor’s report and follow it.
If your company can offer you light-duty or modified-duty work that meets your doctor’s requirements, you can’t turn it down. Not all jobs can offer light-duty work, though.
What if you disagree with a doctor’s diagnosis?
If your doctor’s medical report says that you can do more work than you think you can actually do, tell your claims administrator as soon as possible. Then you’ll need to have a separate medical evaluation from a qualified medical evaluator (QME).
We strongly recommend that you get a workers’ comp attorney if you ever disagree with your doctor’s assessment. The attorney can handle the paperwork to dispute the medical report and arrange for you to get a more accurate evaluation from another doctor.
Call us to get help with your workers' comp claim today.
Can you quit your job while on workers' comp?
Yes, California workers’ compensation allows you to quit your job, change positions, or start a new job while continuing to receive benefits.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you’re planning to quit or change jobs. First, you should report all new income to your claims administrator. If your income increases or decreases, it will affect how much you get through temporary disability payments. Second, if your employer offers you light-duty or modified-duty work and you refuse it (like by quitting) then you’ll likely lose your workers’ comp payments. Third, if you change jobs you should only ever do work that follows your workers’ comp doctor’s treatment plan. If you start doing job duties that your doctor said you could no longer do with your previous employer, you also risk losing your benefits.
Do you need a workers’ comp lawyer?
You don’t need a lawyer to file a workers’ comp claim or to receive benefits. If you never run into issues, then you could go through the whole process on your own. However, a lawyer can fight for your rights and help you get both the payments and health care you need to get better.
Even if you don’t run into problems, having a lawyer can benefit your case. For example, a good lawyer will know medical specialists in your area who have treated injuries like yours. And since lawyers are paid a contingency fee, you won’t pay them anything upfront and you won’t owe anything unless they help you get benefits or negotiate a settlement.
How much a workers’ comp lawyer costs
Your initial consultation with a workers’ comp lawyer will be free. If you decide to work with them, a good lawyer also won’t charge you anything upfront. After your lawyer helps you get benefits or negotiate a settlement, only then will you owe their fee, which is usually between 9% and 15%.
A 15% fee is common in Southern California, though in certain areas with high costs of living, a lawyer may charge more. Your lawyer should tell you their fee upfront, but ask any questions you have about their services or their fees before you sign any paperwork.
Atticus can help with your California workers’ comp
Atticus is a California law firm with lawyers who specialize in workers’ compensation. If you want legal help with your claim, fill out our 3-minute workers’ comp quiz. A member of our team will contact you to learn more about your situation and connect you with one of our lawyers if you're interested.
Frequently asked questions about California workers’ comp
How do I file a workers’ comp claim in California?
First, report your injury to your employer within 30 days. Then they should give you Form DWC 1 to fill out. Return it to your employer and they will file a claim for you.
How much does workers’ comp pay in California?
California workers’ comp pays up to two-thirds of your pre-injury wages, but there is a maximum payment of $242.86 per week and $1,619.15 per week in 2024.
When does workers' comp start paying in California?
In most cases, you’ll receive your first workers’ comp payment within 14 days of notifying your employer of your injury. In some situations, insurance has 14 days from when your doctor says your injury prevents you from working. Your payments arrive every two weeks after that.
How long can I be on workers’ comp pay in California?
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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