A Basic Guide to Worker's Compensation Laws

By J.W. Carpenter , last updated September 19, 2011

Workers’ compensation laws are generally designed to make sure that an employee who is injured or who develops an occupational disease in the course of his or her work is provided with money benefits to help pay for any resulting medical treatment and lost wages. While federal employees are covered by workers’ compensation under federal law, individuals who work for private companies and state and local governments are subject to the workers’ compensation laws set out in the state in which they work.

Though state workers’ compensation laws are similar from state to state, there can be significant differences in general program administration and in injury claims procedures. Thus, it is very important that you contact your state’s Workers’ Compensation Department for detailed information unique to your location. You can find addresses, telephone numbers, and website links for workers’ compensation authorities in each state by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor website (see the link on this page).

Common Workers’ Compensation Features

The first key feature of most workers’ compensation laws is an absolute requirement that employers buy a workers’ compensation insurance policy to cover their workers. Eligible policies must be payable without any determination of fault for an injury or illness, meaning that the injured party will be covered whether the injury was the fault of the employer or the employee, as long as it actually occurred in the course of work. Workers’ compensation insurance policies typically must be approved by the state workers’ compensation authority. In some states, private insurance companies are licensed to sell workers’ compensation insurance, while in other states a government-operated monopoly is the sole insurance provider.

The second key feature of most workers’ compensation laws is a legal shield against liability lawsuits arising from an instance of worker injury. That is to say, while the worker is guaranteed benefits in the case of injury or disability, he or she must give up the right to bring suit in a court of law. Note that such liability shields can be complicated and subject to the circumstances of individual cases. Thus, it is a good idea to speak with an expert in your state for a detailed explanation of employer liability and workers’ compensation laws.

Workers’ Compensation Claim Procedures

Typically, employers are required by law to post workers’ compensation information posters or notices in a conspicuous location at the place of work. Such posters are designed to outline both employer and employee rights and responsibilities in the case of an injury, and also provide instructions for filing a workers’ compensation claim. While details vary from state to state, workers’ compensation claims are typically filed through a central workers’ compensation authority in the state. Your employer will likely be able to direct you to this authority, though it is generally important to file the claim yourself. Today, many states offer online claims filing; others require that you visit a claims office in person or file by mail.

In most states, a compensation framework for medical bills, lost work, and short-term and long-term disability is detailed in law. Claims are considered on a case-by-case basis and compensation is made as required by law.

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