What is Workers’ Compensation?

I often get questions from injured workers wanting me to give them an overview of how workers’ compensation works. In its most basic sense, workers’ compensation is when an employee gets hurt on the job and the employer’s insurance company pays for the injured workers’ medical bills and lost wages. Benefits may also be available if an employee sustains a permanent injury as a result of the work injury. In addition, workers’ compensation benefits include vocational assistance if an employee’s work injury is severe enough that the injured worker is precluded from performing their prior job duties. These vocational benefits may include assistance in finding suitable employment through job search or even additional training.

One of the most frequent phone calls I receive is an injured employee explaining to me that their employer was negligent when the employee got hurt and that they’ve experience “pain and suffering” related to the work injury. In the world of workers’ compensation, negligence is irrelevant and there isn’t compensation for “pain and suffering”. Workers’ compensation is an insurance type benefit and all employers are required by law to have work comp insurance coverage for their employees. Workers’ compensation is seen as a no-fault system meaning it doesn’t matter who was at fault when an employee gets hurt on the job so long the employee got hurt while performing his/her job duties. Work comp is also available to employees who receive a disease or illness as a result of their work duties. Injuries and illness that are compensable under workers’ compensation can occur suddenly, such as falling off a ladder and breaking a leg, or they can be brought on by repetitive actions such as machinist who develops carpal tunnel syndrome over time. Workers’ compensation is also available for injuries that occur while traveling for business, running a work-related errand, and in some cases injuries that occur at a business related social function.

The reason for workers’ compensation is a no-fault system as opposed to an at fault system is to make it easier for an employee to qualify for work comp benefits when they are injured. With the concept of fault thrown out of work comp, claims can be processed quicker which ultimately allows injured workers to receive wage replacement and medical care immediately following an injury. If work injuries required proving who was at fault, claims would be held up in the courts and an injured worker would be left without any pay or medical coverage while on the mend from a work injury. This was the tradeoff between the employers and employees; the injured worker gets benefits regardless of who was at fault and the employer gets protection from having to pay large sums of money for pain and suffering.

Please send any request for topic suggestions to rene@breenandperson.com. Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know. Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.