Understanding Workers’ Compensation: Rights and Responsibilities

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Understanding Workers’ Compensation: Rights and Responsibilities

Workers’ compensation is the oldest social insurance program in the U.S. Author Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” played a part in it after he shared the horrifying conditions of workers in Chicago’s slaughterhouses. He witnessed workers with tuberculosis working side by side without toilets or sinks to wash up. This was just part of what he wrote about.

The first workers’ compensation laws were passed in Wisconsin in 1911. By 1948, all states had passed laws. This put an end to the belief that workplace accidents were part of life and the problem of the worker. 

What Is Workers’ Compensation?

What is workers’ compensation? It’s a form of government-mandated “insurance” that provides income, medical care, or both to workers (full-time, part-time, or temporary employees) who are injured or become ill on the job. Even contractors can be covered by workers’ compensation. 

The Federal Employee’s Compensation Act makes it the responsibility of employers to provide this insurance coverage, as directed by the Workers’ Compensation Board, to all of their employees, and they cannot force their workers to pay for it. 

Suppose you’re injured by machinery while you’re working or become ill due to your work conditions. Workers’ compensation pays for your medical bills and provides financial benefits if you cannot work for a period of time due to your injuries. While you’re covered by workers’ compensation, you do need to understand your rights and responsibilities.

If you’re at work and inhale carbon monoxide from a leak in the office heating system and develop health issues, you would have a valid workers’ compensation claim. If you slipped on water and soap from a backed-up drain in the restaurant where you work and fell and broke your wrist, you’d have a valid workers’ compensation claim. 

On January 27, 2023, new rules went into place for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims. You’ll find that it can be very hard to prove that you contracted COVID-19 at work. Even if you wear masks out in stores, public buildings, etc., masks only lower the risk, they can’t block all traces of COVID from reaching you. If you still believe you can prove you contracted COVID-19 at work, a Form CA-2, Notice of Occupational Disease is the form to file.

What Are Your Workers’ Compensation Rights?

As a California employee, you have several rights provided to you under state laws. They include:

  • The right to file a workers’ compensation claim
  • The right to gain information and forms for filing a claim
  • The right to receive medical care
  • The right to recent temporary or permanent disability benefits
  • The right to receive death benefits
  • The right to remain confidentiality
  • The right to ask about light-duty assignments while you recover
  • The right to not be retaliated against for filing a claim
  • The right to also consider the benefits of filing a disability insurance claim

What Are Your Workers’ Compensation Responsibilities?

As an employee, what are your responsibilities when it comes to workers’ compensation? While your employer must provide this insurance without cost to you, you still have rules to follow.

  • You must immediately report injuries and illnesses to your supervisor ASAP.
  • If emergency care is needed, seek that care first and tell your supervisor when you’re stable and can file the report.
  • California Workers’ Compensation claims require you to fill out DWC-1 Your employer has to fill out an Employer’s Report of Occupational Injury or Illness, Form 5020, and you should see if you can have a copy of that too. It’s especially important if you may need to file a claim with a California employment lawyer.
  • You are required to keep your employer updated on how you’re healing or recovering and make sure you return to regular work duties as soon as you have medical clearance.
  • You are obligated to avoid the activities that will aggravate your injury.
  • If you want to use your personal doctor for workers’ compensation medical care, you need to have predesignated that before the injury or illness occurred. This usually requires making sure your employer has your preferred doctor’s name and contact information on file with the Predesignation of Personal Physician, which involves this form DWC 9783. Otherwise, you might have to use a doctor approved by your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.
  • If you file for workers’ compensation insurance benefits, you usually cannot also sue your employer for the injury you got.

Workers’ compensation forms are available online and your employer can provide the information you need to access the Safety Management Information System. If you do not have a computer or internet, you may need to fill out a paper form. Make sure you have witness statements to back up your claim. The more evidence you have, the less likely it is that your claim will be denied or delayed.

What About Disability Insurance?

You also want to understand disability insurance, as it can also help if you’re injured or become ill at work. Disability insurance benefits are a part of California’s State Disability Insurance program that provides partial wages to California workers who cannot work temporarily due to an injury, illness, or pregnancy (non-work-related).

Disability insurance is available if the amount of workers’ compensation isn’t as much as the weekly disability insurance benefit. Currently, California Disability Insurance pays about 60% to 70% of your weekly income. On January 1, 2023, the temporary total disability rate increased to a range of $242.86 to $1,619.15 per week.

You may also become eligible for disability insurance if your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier denies or delays your workers’ compensation claim. You cannot get both workers’ compensation and disability insurance at the same time. Disability insurance doesn’t always pay a lot, but it may offer more than workers’ compensation.

What If You Feel Your Rights Are Being Ignored?

What if you were injured or became ill and are told it’s not worth filing a claim? What if your rights are being ignored? What can you do to ensure you’re listened to and that your claim is handled properly?

Do not hesitate to tell your employer you want to file a workers’ compensation claim. You should be given the information you need to file a claim online. If you are given a run-around or find your claim is denied, talk to an employment lawyer. 

Shegerian Conniff specializes in workplace laws and discrimination complaints. You’ll get answers as to whether you have a valid complaint and what your next steps are. 

You do not have to simply agree with the claim denial your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier gives you. Talk to the workers’ compensation specialists at Shegerian Conniff to learn more. Don’t worry about having to pay for the consultation, it’s free.

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