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Thanks to the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (OSH Act), employers in the United States are legally required to provide their employees with a safe work environment free from known dangers. The OSH Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, to set and enforce health and safety standards, and secure workers’ rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, even after the passing of the OSH Act and the creation of OSHA, workplace injuries still occur at an alarming rate.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in excess of 3 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported by the private industry business sector in 2013. More than half of the reported cases were serious enough to require time off from work, and for many people that means loss of income. If you were injured on the job, would you know your rights? Do you know what recourse you would have to protect your financial and physical health?
Injured Worker’s Rights
Each state has its own workers’ compensation laws, and the rights each state extends to injured employees differ as well. However, there are some commonalities among state laws, including the right to seek medical treatment for your injuries and the right to return to work once a doctor has released you. Some rights surrounding the issue of workers compensation are also somewhat universal. Those include the following:
- The right to file an injury claim in workers compensation court without fear of reprisal (or the employer will face severe sanctions).
- The right to seek disability compensation when injuries render the employee temporarily or permanently unable to work.
- The right to appeal decisions rendered by the employer’s insurance company, the workers compensation court, or the employer himself.
- The right to be represented by legal counsel.
- The right to refuse certain requests, such as if an employer encourages the injured employee to utilize his personal health insurance to seek treatment.
- The right to refuse certain offers, such as a monetary incentive not to file a claim. In fact, that is illegal.
Understanding your rights, and where to turn for help, are critical to getting the assistance you need when you need it. You are your own best advocate when it comes to retaining your rights and securing workers compensation benefits.
What You Should Do
The first step you should take when you’ve been hurt at work is to report the injury to your employer so it can be properly documented. Next, file a workers compensation claim with your state as soon as you are reasonably able to do so. If your employer attempts to dissuade you from filing a claim, your claim is denied, or you believe the result was otherwise unjust, contact a lawyer who specializes in employee’s rights issues because workers compensation is a critical lifeline for those who are injured and unable to work.
Workers Compensation Benefits
Filing a claim for workers compensation benefits allows the injured employee to receive more than just short term financial assistance while he recovers. The benefits also extend to medical care (including emergency care), death benefits (paid to the family), job displacement, or retraining benefits, and even permanent disability benefits if the injury is severe enough that the employee can no longer work.
Most work injuries do not leave the employee permanently disabled, but since more than half of all on-the-job injuries require time off from work, an injury can be financially debilitating nonetheless. If you’ve been injured at work, protect your rights by immediately reporting the injury to your employer, and then follow up by filing a workers compensation claim.