Know Your Legal Rights if Injured at Work

For any injury or illness sustained on the job, you have the legal right to file a claim, and you are entitled to seek medical treatment. Employers are required to offer some type of workers' compensation and to make every effort to provide a safe working environment. You should know your legal rights if you are injured at work, and those rights may vary depending on the circumstances surrounding your work injury.

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Marc Shuman is a personal injury attorney and the founder of Shuman Legal, a Chicago, Illinois based law firm. Marc has over 34 years of experience in law and is an active member of the American Bar Association and the Illinois Workers Compensation Lawyers Association (IWCLA).  With a 95% success rate at trial that has generated millions of dollars in compensation, Marc J. Shuman has a passion...

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Written by Marc Shuman
Personal Injury Attorney Marc Shuman

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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It is an employer’s legal obligation to provide their employees with a safe working environment. That said, accidents happen, and injuries can still be sustained at the fault of an employer or third-party.

Even injuries that may seem minor have the potential to impact your ability to work, as well as your overall quality of life, which is why it’s important to have workers’ compensation.

You must know your legal rights if you are injured at work. There are steps to take to ensure that you receive the help and compensations that you are entitled to in accordance with your rights.

And make sure you get the legal help you need no matter your case.

What is workers’ compensation insurance?

Workers’ compensation insurance is a benefit system that covers a portion of an employee’s lost wages as well as medical treatment in the event that they are injured on the job. It is an employer’s legal requirement to carry workers’ compensation insurance. 

Most states allow only a small window of opportunity to report an injury (some within just 24 hours), so it is imperative that you report a work-related injury to your employer as soon as physically possible.

If the nature of the injury prevents reporting it quickly, it’s important to report it as soon as you are able.

Once you have reported the injury to your employer, the next step is to file a workers’ compensation claim. This is an official claim that informs both the employer and their insurance company that you’ve sustained an injury.

It also serves as an important legal document that provides you with certain protections and rights and may be called upon during future proceedings.

It is also important that you get the appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible. In addition, it is critically important to let the medical personnel know that you were hurt at work and the specific facts that caused your injury to make sure that it is documented properly.

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What are my rights after being injured at work?

Knowing what to do after being injured at work can be daunting. Concerns over pay, blame/responsibility and job security all come into play, amongst others.

Specific laws do vary from state to state, but there are some general legal rights regarding work-related injuries that apply to everyone.

Part of any workers’ compensation definition is that it will provide coverage for wage replacement and medical benefits to injured employees.

It also stipulates that, in return, the employee will forfeit their right to sue their employer for negligence.

For any injury or illness sustained on the job, you have the right to file a claim, and you are entitled to seek medical treatment. Sometimes, it is possible to use your own regular physician, but in some cases you may be required to visit a physician that your employer specifies.

If a physician clears you as being ready to return to work, you have the right to return without any fear of retribution. If you are unable to return to work, you have the right to seek either short or long term disability compensation.

While it’s true that you give up your right to sue your employer by taking workers’ compensation, you have the right to a hearing in front of the appropriate workers’ compensation panel (it varies by state) if you and your employer or their insurance company, disagree.

For example, if your employer is insistent that you are ready to come back to work and you don’t yet feel able, you can request a hearing. Engaging a workers’ compensation lawyer will significantly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

There are also things that you are entitled to refuse. For example, it may be requested of you to use your private insurance to pay for medical treatment, or your employer may ask that you work through your injury when you know it is not in your best interests to do so.

Occasionally, employers may even attempt to deny or trivialize your injury or pressure you into dropping or not filing your claim. This is illegal and should be reported.

Any harassment brought about by an employer making a workers’ compensation claim is illegal and if you feel that this is something you are being subjected to, you should consult immediately with a qualified attorney to protect your rights and entitlements.

What if a third party is responsible?

There are incidences in which it is not an employer, but a third party that is responsible for an injury. For example, you may have been involved in an accident with a delivery van or injured by a faulty piece of outsourced equipment.

In these cases, you are entitled to file a workers’ compensation claim to seek coverage for lost wages and medical expenses, as well as file a civil claim against the responsible third party.

With civil lawsuits, you have the opportunity to seek damages over and above the replacement of wages and the coverage of medical expenses.

If a third party is found to be responsible for your injury through a civil lawsuit, you have the option to claim for non-economic related damages, such as compensation for resultant pain and suffering.

Common Mistakes Injured Employees Make

Workers’ compensation claims are often held up in court, but usually for avoidable reasons. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:

  • Delaying reporting an injury – all too often, people wait too long to report an injury that seems trivial at first, yet becomes significantly worse over time. Always report an injury as soon as possible, however minor.
  • Failing to include previous injuries – It’s essential that you remain transparent when preparing a workers’ compensation claim and providing your medical history. If you sustained a prior work injury that you did not report, omitting it from your new claim could be considered fraudulent, resulting in you potentially losing your right to compensation.
  • Omitting part of the injury sustained – If you only report part of your sustained injury, it could later be misconstrued as fraud. For example, if the primary injury is to your back, but you also suffered a secondary injury to your knee as you fell, you must report both. Ensure you are thorough in reporting all injuries to your physician, documenting everything officially.
  • Not returning to work when you’re able to – If your employer offers you an alternative position to accommodate your injury, you should accept it so long as you genuinely feel capable medically. If you turn down reasonable offers of alternative work, it may be construed as you voluntarily giving up your income and your employment may subsequently be legitimately terminated.

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Final Thoughts on Injuries at Work

If you are injured while at work, know that you have different options legally. Different circumstances may offer different solutions, but that is why you need to be informed.

If you are considering engaging an attorney, you can obtain an idea of how much your case could be worth and get legal help today.

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