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Public Employees and Workers' Compensation

If you’re a public employee working for the government, you’re probably subject to a separate set of workers' compensation regulations. Federal employees are governed by federal law, state or local employees are subject to either the same state regulations as private workers or a special state statute, and some occupations like railroad workers and seamen have their own separate regulations entirely.

Federal Employees

Federal employees have different programs for federal workers' compensation benefits. The Federal Employee's Compensation Act (FECA) allows for the recovery of benefits when a federal employee is either disabled or killed as a result of an injury or disease "sustained while in the performance of duty." FECA is available to federal employees regardless of the length of time on the job or the type of position held. Benefits include both medical expenses and compensation for wage loss. Vocational rehabilitation services are also offered to partially disabled employees. All federal benefits are managed through the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) and paid out of the Employees' Compensation Fund.

Special Occupations

Special types of employees may bring claims for federal workers' compensation benefits under several federal acts. For example, the Federal Employer's Liability Act provides recovery for injuries sustained by employees engaged in interstate transportation, such as railroad workers. The Jones Act provides for seamen, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act provides similar benefits to longshoremen and others who are engaged in maritime activities on navigable waters. Other statutes that play a role in the compensation of certain employees include: The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Death on the High Seas Act, and the Defense Base Act (for employees working on defense bases or public works projects outside the U.S.).

State and Local Employees

If you're a state or local government employee, your state workers' compensation statutes determine whether you are covered under the state's program or another provision. The easiest way to learn the details of your coverage is to look for the mandatory workers' compensation poster at your workplace. Most states require these to be posted in an employee common area. Here are samples from California and Texas. The poster details your coverage and provides contact information for questions and filing a claim. If you’re unable to locate the poster, contact your employer.

If you're employed by your state, contact your state's human resources or employee management department. In California, for example, you would contact the California Department of Human Resources. In Florida, the Department of Management Services regulates state employee benefits. If your employer is the local county or city government, the same principle applies - contact the human resources department. Alternatively, you may contact the legal department (see New York City) or if you’re a member of a labor union, your union representative.

Most state statutes prohibit payment of workers' compensation benefits to "officials" of the state. As a general rule, if an individual exercises some portion of the state's sovereign power, he or she will be considered an official and therefore ineligible to collect state workers' compensation benefits. If you're a police officer, firefighter, or uniformed sanitation worker many states have separate, specific provisions within their statutes to clarify which workers' compensation benefits, rules, and requirements apply.

Legal Help for Public Employees

If you are a public employee who has been hurt on the job, you are facing not only the hard work of healing from your injuries, but figuring out what you need to do next to make your claim. What laws apply to you? Can your union help? A local workers' comp attorney can review your case, explain the law to you, and help you decide what to do next.

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