Employee Rights After a Work Injury
Sustaining an injury while at work is a confusing and stressful experience. Although work injuries can happen in any profession, they are especially common in industries like construction, where job duties can be hazardous to worker safety. Often, injured workers are concerned about not being able to return to work and may be unsure how they will afford medical treatment. Many don’t know they have rights that are meant to ensure they are able to pay for medical treatment, and are compensated for lost wages. If you are an employee that was injured on the job, make no mistake: you have rights. Read on to learn about how injured workers are protected and can obtain compensation for any harm suffered while on the job.
What Are an Injured Worker’s Rights?
Not all workers are aware that there are laws that protect them in case they are injured on the job. In the aftermath of an injury, most workers just want to recover as quickly as possible. However, it is important that workers understand how the law protects them when they become injured; otherwise, they are at risk of losing compensation that could help pay for medical bills and other costs.
Injured workers have the right to:
File a workers’ compensation claim (without fear of retaliation or harassment from an employer).
As long as the employer has workers’ compensation insurance, an employee is legally entitled to file a claim to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation is a program (often run through the state) that allows employees who have been injured on the job to receive financial compensation to cover their medical costs and lost wages. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault program, which means that any negligence that caused the accident does not affect a worker’s right to file a claim. It is an employee’s right to obtain benefits through the workers’ compensation system if they have been injured while performing job-related tasks, and it is against the law for an employer to harass, threaten, or otherwise try to convince an injured worker not to pursue workers’ compensation.
An injured worker is always entitled to medical treatment. If the injuries require immediate attention, the worker can go to the emergency room, but if they do not need to be looked at right away, the worker should ask his employer if there is a workers’ compensation-approved doctor he should see. Employers may be able to tell workers which doctor(s) are acceptable under each state’s workers’ compensation program, but they should never try to convince an injured employee that he does not need medical treatment or that he shouldn’t go to the doctor. That is a serious offense and is incredibly dangerous to the worker’s health.
Return to work once cleared by a doctor.
Although employers are not required to hold your job for you, they often take injured workers back once they have recovered. The New York State workers’ compensation website emphasizes that it is important to stay in touch with your employer while you are healing, so you can discuss your medical restrictions and potential return-to-work options once you have been cleared by a doctor to resume work. Some workers sustain injuries that leave them with a partial disability or do not allow them to return to their former work at full capacity; there are options for these workers as well. If you can return to work but with fewer responsibilities and therefore receive less pay, you may be able to receive compensation that will make up the difference. Or, if you are disabled as a result of your injury but still able to work, you can request accommodations from your employer so that you can return to your job even with your disability.
It is important to remember that employers are not required to hold your job for you while you recover; however, they cannot discriminate against you for your injuries or the fact that you receive workers’ compensation benefits. Injured employees have the right to seek work after they have recovered from their injuries, even if they cannot return to work at their previous full capacity.
Disability compensation if they cannot return to their former job because of a temporary or partial disability.
At the same time that employees have the right to return to work if they are able, they also have the right to receive disability benefits if they are unable to return to work at all because of disabilities that resulted from their work injury. This is typically classified as Permanent Total Disability and means that there is no limit to the amount of time that benefits will be paid out. This is in contrast to the classification Permanent Partial Disability, which means that a worker is not completely disabled from work, but has suffered an injury so severe that they are partially disabled and cannot earn the full amount of wages they were before the injury. In this case, there are also disability benefits, but they stop being paid out after a certain number of weeks, depending on the state.
Appeal their claim if it is denied or if they feel they are not being offered a sufficient amount of compensation.
An injured worker always has the right to file a workers’ compensation claim. However, after receiving the claim, the insurance company and the state workers’ compensation board are the ones who will decide if the worker should receive compensation, and what amount of compensation the worker should receive. In cases where the worker’s claim is denied, they have the right to appeal and explain why the claim should be approved. Similarly, if the worker’s claim is approved but they are offered an amount they do not feel is sufficient, they have a right to appeal the offer and try to get an amount they think is fair. Having legal assistance during these appeals processes can be extremely helpful.
Legal representation throughout the workers’ compensation claim process.
Although legal representation is not required to file a workers’ compensation claim, it can greatly benefit the worker. As stated above, a workers’ compensation lawyer can help an employee appeal a claim that is denied or a compensation offer that is insufficient. However, a lawyer can also assist the injured worker throughout the whole process, from obtaining medical care from an approved provider to filing the claim. Having legal representation from the moment a worker is injured not only ensures the worker gets every dollar he is entitled to, but it can make the process of obtaining benefits much smoother and stress-free for the worker.
Make a third-party claim if negligence contributed to causing the accident.
As mentioned previously, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. This means that, as long as an employer has workers’ compensation insurance, an injured employee cannot sue the employer, even if the employer’s negligence contributed to causing the accident. In turn, the employee’s benefits cannot be reduced if they did something negligent that contributed to causing the accident. For example, if a worker was struck by a falling object that was not secured (a negligent act) he could not bring a lawsuit against his employer. He could, however, potentially bring a third-party lawsuit against another party who is responsible for the safety of a construction site and its occupants, like a contractor or site owner. There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a worker could bring a third-party claim, but if you believe negligence contributed to your work accident, you have the right to consult an attorney about filing a personal injury lawsuit.
How Can Workers Protect Their Rights?
Aside from knowing their rights, workers can make sure they are protecting themselves and their rights if they are injured on the job by taking a few steps:
- Report the injury to your employer as soon as possible. This is extremely important, as there are time limits in some states within which a worker has to report an injury, or he may lose his right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. In New York, the time window for reporting a work injury is 30 days, but it is best to report it as soon as possible.
- Remember that you also have a right to say “no” if your employer tries to pressure you into something. If your employer tries to keep you from exercising your rights as an injured worker, remember that you have the right to say no. For example, if your employer were to try to convince you not to file a workers’ compensation claim, or asked you to use your own insurance to pay for medical care, you can refuse.
- Discuss your case with a qualified work accident attorney. A good work accident attorney is one of the best ways you can protect your rights as an injured worker. A qualified lawyer with expertise in labor law will ensure that you get every dollar of compensation you deserve.
Injured workers should never feel like they do not have options. There are many laws in place that protect employees who have been hurt on the job, and workers should know their rights so they can take advantage of these protections.
Experienced Work Accident Lawyers Protecting Injured Workers’ Rights
The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have handled numerous work accident cases and are skilled in helping injured workers through the workers’ compensation process and with filing third-party personal injury claims. Select results include:
- $15,000,000 settlement in a wrongful death case for the wife and children of an HVAC technician who was tragically fatally crushed by a falling object while at work
- $12,000,000 settlement for a union tunnel worker who became permanently disabled from future employment after he fell 40 feet into a ventilation shaft on the job
- $4,995,000 settlement in a Bronx case for a 37-year-old worker who suffered multiple injuries after a work-related fall
- $4,900,000 settlement for a union electrician who developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome after he fell of a ladder at work
- $4,750,000 settlement for a union labor foreman at a Bronx construction site who was hit by a flying rock from a construction site blast and suffered multiple fractures and shoulder tears
- $4,650,000 settlement for a day laborer who fell 10-15 feet from a warehouse shelf while on the job at a Queens warehouse; he suffered fractured ribs and spinal injuries
- $4,500,000 settlement for a carpenter who fell 10 feet from a ladder placed atop a scaffold, resulting in severe injuries that permanently disabled him from employment
- $4,475,000 settlement in a wrongful death case for the young children of a union ironworker who was tragically killed when the temporary flooring he was walking on collapsed
- $4,000,000 settlement in a Nassau County case for a laborer who sustained a serious back injury and was disabled from future employment after falling from a roof while on the job
- $4,000,000 settlement for a union elevator erector who suffered knee and elbow injuries after he was hurt on the job
- $4,000,000 settlement for a 32-year-old steamfitter who was severely burned while working on a water pump at a Bronx hospital
- $3,750,000 settlement for a 35-year-old electrician who suffered severe crush injuries after he was struck by a 30-foot long steel beam
- $3,750,000 settlement for a 25-year-old worker who was permanently disabled from employment due to his injuries, after he fell 30-40 feet from an unsecured ladder
- $3,720,000 settlement for a commercial glass installation worker who sustained ankle and foot injuries, including a calcaneus fracture, after he fell two stories through an unsecured hole cover
- $3,700,000 settlement for a 33-year-old asbestos worker who fell from an unsecured scaffold, resulting in the need for multiple spinal surgeries
- $3,500,000 settlement for a plumber’s helper who suffered a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord issues after he fell from an unsecured ladder
- $3,500,000 settlement for a New York City Transit Authority bus operator who sustained neck and back injuries when the bus he was driving was rear-ended by another vehicle