Workers Compensation

Ten Tips for Collecting Workers’ Compensation Benefits

By Sachi Barreiro, Attorney, University of San Francisco School of Law | Updated by E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Learn what to do—and what not to do—if you want to get the benefits you deserve for a work-related injury or illness.

You’ve been injured in an accident at work. Or maybe you’ve learned that you've developed an occupational illness or a repetitive stress injury from your work activities. What now? What you do in the following days and weeks can have a large impact on your workers' compensation claim. Following these steps can help streamline the process and maximize your chances of getting all the workers’ comp benefits you deserve.

  1. Get emergency medical treatment. If your injuries require immediate attention, you should go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care. Let the medical provider know that you were injured at work, and explain how your injuries occurred.
  2. Report your injuries promptly. Tell your supervisor about your accident or injuries as soon as possible, and ask for the proper form to make a written report. Even if the injury seems minor at first, don’t wait to tell your employer on the assumption that you won’t need workers’ comp benefits. Each state has different time limits for reporting work-related injuries, ranging from a few days to 30 days or more, and some require that the report be in writing. In many states, you can’t collect workers’ comp benefits if you miss the deadline. There may be exceptions, such as when your employer actually knew about the injury. Still, the sooner you notify your employer about your injuries, the sooner your workers’ comp benefits can start. Also, the insurance company will probably be less skeptical of your claim if you report your injuries immediately.
  3. File a claim form when it’s required. Depending on where you live, you may also need to file an official claim in order to start to your workers’ comp case. You should be able to get the proper form from your employer. In some states, your employer or its insurance company is responsible for filing the claim. You can find the rules for your state on a workers’ comp notice posted in your workplace or on the website for your state’s workers’ comp agency. (Find your state’s agency on this map tool from the U.S. Department of Labor.)
  4. Follow up with the insurance company. Once your claim is filed, your employer’s insurance company will have a period of time to investigate and decide whether to accept or deny your claim. The time limit varies from state to state, but is generally between two to four weeks. If you don’t hear from the insurance company within this time, be sure to follow up. (Learn what to do if your employer doesn’t have workers’ comp insurance.)
  5. Get follow up medical treatment. Make sure to get the follow-up treatment you need. For non-emergency treatment, states have different rules for choosing and changing treating doctors in workers' comp cases. If you don't follow those rules, you may not get paid for your medical treatment.
  6. Follow your doctor’s orders. You could lose your right to benefits if you refuse treatment that your doctor has recommended, although you may be able to get a second opinion. Let your employer know right away if your doctor has said that you need to take time off from work, work reduced hours, or have restrictions on what you can do at work (such as not lifting heavy objects). You’ll probably have to provide a note from your doctor to verify these medical restrictions. All states make it illegal for your employer to retaliate against you because you have applied for or are getting workers’ comp benefits, including temporary disability while you take time off to recover from your work-related injuries. (Learn more about medical issues in workers' comp cases.)
  7. Cooperate with the insurance company’s reasonable requests. The insurance company will be entitled to see your medical records and bills, so it makes sense to agree when you’re asked to sign a medical release for this purpose. However, you want to make sure that the request is limited to medical treatment related to your work injury, rather than a fishing expedition into your entire medical history. The insurer may also request that you go to an independent medical examination to resolve any disputes over the nature or severity of your injury or illness. If you don’t cooperate, you could lose your right to workers’ comp benefits. A workers’ comp lawyer can help you deal with requests for medical releases, as well as help you prepare for and handle your independent medical exam.
  8. Be wary of requests for recorded statements. When you report your injury, the insurance company may ask if it can take a recorded statement from you over the phone. Claims adjusters may sound friendly and empathetic, but they’re usually trying to get you to say things that can be used against you later, such as inconsistencies in your description of the accident, your symptoms, or any past medical problems. It’s generally not a good idea to give a recorded statement, but sometimes it may be necessary or helpful. You should always consult with a lawyer before giving a statement to the insurance company. Later on in your workers’ comp case, the insurance company will have the right to question you under oath, in a procedure known as a deposition, but this takes place in person and you’ll have the opportunity to have a lawyer present. (Learn more about what to expect from a workers’ comp deposition.)
  9. Keep a daily journal and records. You should keep all records related to your injury and workers' comp claim, including copies of any forms you submitted, correspondence with your employer and its insurance company, medical records, etc. It's also a good idea to keep a journal with important information related to your claim, including:
  • names and contact information of witnesses who saw your accident or have direct knowledge about the circumstances of your work-related injury or illness
  • details about your symptoms (including the level of any pain) and how your injury limits any normal activities in your life or work
  • names, dates, and addresses of all doctors that you’ve seen, and details about the medical treatment you receive
  • mileage log for all doctors’ appointments you have attended (you can usually get reimbursed for this)
  • dates you've missed work (so you can correct any errors in the official records), and
  • notes from any conversations you’ve had with the insurance company.
  1. Consult with an attorney. Don’t lose hope if the insurance company denies your claim, is balking at approving and paying for medical treatment, or is giving you a hard time in other ways. Insurance companies routinely deny workers' comp claims, even when they're legitimate, and do everything they can to limit how much they have to pay injured employees. An experienced workers’ comp lawyer can help you gather the evidence needed to support your claim, deal with the insurance company on your behalf, help you navigate the workers' comp appeals process, prepare you for depositions and hearings, and more. Workers’ comp lawyers almost always work for a percentage of benefits they’re able to get for you, which means that you don’t pay if you don’t win your case. (Learn how to choose a good workers’ comp lawyer, and see our survey results on how much workers’ comp lawyers cost and whether they’re worth it.)

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