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Workers' Compensation: Employers' Responsibilities

Workers' compensation is like a safety net for workers. It is there if something wrong happens at work, like a work-related injury or occupational disease. Employers must understand their responsibilities when it comes to workers' compensation.

Employers must purchase employee insurance in most states. This insurance is provided by a workers' compensation insurance carrier. In some states, larger employers with enough assets can self-insure or act as their own insurance companies. Smaller companies (with fewer than three or four employees) might be exempt.

When a worker is injured, their claim is filed with the insurance company (or self-insuring employer). They pay medical and disability benefits according to a state-approved formula. Unless they fall within limited, exempt categories, employers without workers' compensation insurance are subject to penalties. Penalties can be in the form of fines, criminal prosecution, and civil liability.

This article provides a brief overview of the duties of employers regarding workers' compensation.

Workers' Compensation: Duties of Employers

In addition to providing workers' compensation insurance coverage, in most states employers must perform some, if not all, of the following duties:

  • They must post a notice of compliance with workers' compensation laws in an obvious place at each job site. Any disclaimers should also be made available to employees.
  • If an employee gets hurt or suffers an on-the-job injury, the employer's first duty is to ensure the worker gets medical care or medical attention immediately. This could mean anything from a quick trip to the doctor to an ambulance ride to the hospital. This can also include ongoing medical treatment. All the medical bills should be covered under the workers' compensation system.
  • If a worker gets hurt in a car accident while driving for work, the employer is responsible for covering the worker's medical expenses. In New York, for example, these rules are stringent. New York employers must make sure they can pay for their state workers' comp benefits if there is a workplace accident.
  • The next step is to report the injury. The employer must fill out the First Report of Injury form. It tells the workers' compensation program what happened. A copy of the report should also be mailed to the employer's insurance company. An employer who refuses or neglects to make an injury report may be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine.
  • The employer must comply with all requests for additional information. This can include statements of the employee's earnings, reports of the date of the employee's return to work, or other needed reports.

The money a worker gets from workers' comp is based on their average weekly wage before the injury. Workers who cannot work at all because of an injury get total disability benefits. If they can still do some work but not as much as before, they may get partial disability benefits.

One important thing to remember: only some people who work are covered by workers' comp. Independent contractors, for example, might not be. Getting advice from a legal professional is essential if you need clarification.

Penalties for Employers Who Do Not Meet Their Duties

If the employer follows their responsibilities, they can avoid getting in trouble. Otherwise, they might have to pay fines or even go to court for a compensation case. If they pay for an employee's injury out of their pocket, they might not be reimbursed by the workers' compensation system. Failure to provide coverage can result in steep sanctions against the offending employer. Types of consequences include:

  • Fines
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Personal liability of the employer for any workers' compensation benefits due to injured workers
  • An employee may exercise the option to sue the employer rather than file a compensation claim

There may be instances where you may sue your employer instead. However, workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries in most states. Personal injury claims are also available for certain injuries that are not covered by workers' compensation coverage.

Employer's Duty Not to Retaliate

Workers' compensation laws also protect employees. They are designed to be the only remedy that injured employees may seek from their employers. Even so, employers often appear to frown on employees who file workers' compensation benefits claims. Some blatantly discriminate against such employees.

To protect employees from employers who discriminate against, harass, or unjustly terminate injured employees, most states prohibit employers from punishing, discriminating against, or discharging employees who exercise their rights under workers' compensation laws. They allow employees to bring civil actions against their employers for the tort of "retaliatory discharge."

In this type of suit, the employee must convince a judge or jury that it was more likely than not that they were wrongfully terminated. However, the employee does not have to prove that the workers' compensation claim is the sole reason for the discharge. The test is whether the employer's action is rooted substantially in the employee's exercise of rights under workers' compensation laws.

Besides termination, retaliation may take the form of more subtle discriminatory treatment. This can include demotion or salary reduction. Injured employees are protected from discriminatory conduct immediately after an injury. They are protected even before a formal workers' compensation claim is filed. An employee's cause of action may be successful even though all the employee did was give notice to the employer of a claim.

What Are Your Employer's Workers' Comp Responsibilities? An Attorney Can Help

Workers' compensation claims involve several parties and can get confusing for non-lawyers. If you believe your employer is not meeting their workers' comp responsibilities, you may need to assert your rights through legal action. A workers' compensation lawyer can put their expertise to work for you. They can help you understand your rights and fight to get you the best outcome possible.

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