Workers Compensation

I recently got a full-time job with a historical tour society. You know those people who dress up in costume and lead groups of tourists around historic downtowns? That’s me. Or that was me. Literally a week and a half into the job, I twisted my knee pretty badly while walking backward in 18th-century clogs and telling a crowd of tourists about how this was the house of old Reverend Such-and-Such. I powered through the rest of the tour, but the next day my knee hurt so bad that I saw a doctor. Suffice it to say the injury is bad enough to take me out of commission for two weeks. I’m not going to be able to work, which means no money (fortunately, it also means no period-appropriate footwear). I’m set back by my doctor bills on top of that. A friend of mine suggested that I look into getting workers compensation, and while I like the idea in theory, I have no idea how to go about it in practice. Or even if I’m eligible. What should I do here?

Workers’ compensation is like a fire extinguisher: you don’t think you need it until you do. It is also, like the risks you incur by putting on a pair of 18th-century clogs, usually an afterthought when you’re focusing on your employment. We’ll talk about what workers’ compensation is, how to file a workers’ comp claim, and what you should do in your particular situation.

What is workers’ compensation? The term actually covers a diverse group of programs. Workers’ comp programs are state-mandated, so they differ slightly state-by-state. They are designed to ensure employees injured or disabled in the course of their employment receive compensation for their lost wages and medical treatment. They function as a type of insurance. Any business with employees has to have workers’ comp coverage.

Workers’ compensation programs limit the amount of money an employee can claim from their employer, and from other employees. In this way, the programs function as “no-fault” systems, where your negligence on the job, and your employer’s negligence, are not an issue. Rather, you are covered for your injuries no questions asked. Before workers’ comp programs, the only way for employees to receive compensation for workplace-related injuries was to sue their employers. The process was obviously expensive and complicated, and workers’ compensation,  first worked out in 1911, was a compromise solution. When an employee makes a claim, they forfeit the right to sue their employer but are guaranteed compensation.

Every individual state has its own workers’ compensation insurance program, which means that the groups covered by workers’ comp programs differ slightly state-by-state. Universally, “independent contractors” are not covered by workers’ comp  — if you work as a freelance writer, for example. In some states, agricultural workers and seasonal workers are not covered; in others, there’s no coverage for domestic workers like nannies and housekeepers. The exact categorization of which workers are and are not covered by workers’ comp can be found on individual states’ websites.

Workers’ compensation claims also cover a surprisingly wide range of injuries. Say the words “worker’s compensation” and you might imagine a construction worker who has blown out his shoulder or stepped on a nail. In fact, according to The Law Offices of Gold, Albanese, Barletti & Locascio, Red Bank, NJ worker’s compensation attorneys, there is a diverse array of people who are eligible: programmers who suffer repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel, delivery people bitten by dogs, even actors who slip and fall onstage. Any work-related injury, one obtained while doing something related to your employment, is eligible. Even mental injuries, like anxiety and bipolar disorder, are compensable if they were sustained or exacerbated by the job.

Given your description of your job, it seems that your employer probably has workers’ comp coverage and that you are eligible as an employee of theirs. Tour guides, whether lacing up hiking boots to experience North Bend, OR or donning a tricorne hat in Boston, are not exempted employees from workers’ comp programs. As long as you receive wages from them and had taxes deducted from your paycheck, even if you are part-time, you are eligible. Your injury is clearly workplace-related, since you obtained it as a result of you doing your job. And while you would forfeit the right to sue your employer, that frankly doesn’t sound like something you would want to do. Submitting a claim might be a good idea. So how do you do that?

Submitting a workers’ comp claim will be different in every state, but there are some parts of the process that are true no matter where you are. Your employer should give you the form you need to fill out, and they should be filing paperwork on your behalf as well (most likely, it will be a link to an online form). You should also contact your doctor to let them know you are making a workers’ comp claim. Once your employer has filed their paperwork with their insurer, you will wait to see if your workers’ compensation claim is accepted. If it is, they will have further instructions to make your claim.

According to the court reporters in Fort Lauderdale at Brickell Key Court Reporting, you may have to have your deposition taken at some point in the process. Your deposition is simply a question-and-answer session, where you will be asked to provide information relating to your claim. You will probably be asked about prior injuries, how you were injured, and your course of treatment. In the event of a deposition, you will be testifying under oath, and your testimony will be recorded by a court reporter. For these reasons, it is best to ensure you have your notes organized and in order, and that you always tell the truth.

If your compensation claim is denied, you may want to hire a lawyer to appeal your claim. While this is an arduous process, a lawyer will work for a percentage of your total award, only if you are awarded. If you do get an award, you can choose a lump-sum payment, or a structured payment that disburses over a period of time. A structured disbursement will take longer to recoup the full sum, but it will come in like a regular wage. If you go with a lump-sum payment, it can be tempting to say, surf Hawaii with the windfall, but remember that you will have to budget for the wages you have missed out on. As with all matters of money and law, the more you anticipate the challenges, the higher the likelihood of a good outcome.

“The self is made, not given.”  — Barbara Myerhoff

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