Workers' Compensation Laws
At the Federal level, the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), administers workers' compensation laws, regulations, guidelines and programs under the following acts.
- Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
- Black Lung Benefits Reform Act (Coal Miners)
- Federal Employees' Compensation Act
It was the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act that got the state workers' compensation ball rolling in 1916. Although it was a workers' compensation law that covered only Federal government employees, most states followed suit for private-sector and state public-sector employees.
Some state workers' compensation laws allow employers to insure through private insurance carriers or to be self-insured, while others require employers to insure through state programs. State workers' compensation agencies typically administer workers' compensation laws.
Workers' compensation is generally a "no-fault" insurance system, meaning that the liability of coworkers and employers is limited, even if negligence is involved. It also means that, once employees collect workers' compensation insurance benefits, workers' compensation law likely will not allow them to litigate other damages for the same incidents.
Subsequently, affected employees might be better off filing personal injury lawsuits instead of workers' compensation claims, depending on the nature of their cases. In addition to medical expenses and lost wages, lawsuits might award damages and attorney fees. Consult an attorney for more information.
Workers' compensation laws generally allow employers and their insurance carriers to dispute employees' claims for benefits; but, by the same token, the laws also generally allow employees to appeal decisions that deny them benefits. Workers' compensation laws in some states allow employees to file lawsuits instead of appealing or after they've exhausted the appeals process and lost. See an attorney about that.
The appeals process varies by state, as do the workers' compensation laws that allow appeals. To appeal a decision, follow the instructions provided by your employer or its insurance carrier, or the Federal or state workers' compensation agency. Typically, an employee would appeal his or her case in a hearing before a workers' compensation board. If the employee loses there, he or she may then appeal in a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Whether appealing before a board or judge, be sure to first get your case in order, including supporting evidence. If you're not comfortable organizing your case or presenting it in an official hearing, hire an attorney who specializes in Federal or state workers' compensation law. Many do.
Hiring an attorney to represent you is not required, but you have the right to do so. In fact, the workers' compensation board or administrative law judge might recommend that you exercise your right to hire an attorney, especially if your case is complex or your employer will be represented by one or more attorneys.
Most state workers' compensation laws or regulations limit the fees that attorneys may charge. How much they're limited and whether they are added to or subtracted from awards varies by state. So, it's a good idea to discuss fees right away with the attorney you're considering for hire. An attorney might take your case on contingency.
Employers are generally not allowed to retaliate against employees who exercise their employee rights under workers' compensation laws, such as filing and appealing claims.
If employers retaliate anyway, victims are entitled to file complaints with state workers' compensation agencies, if such agencies have avenues for retaliation complaints. If they don't, workers might gain relief by filing discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state equivalent, under the Americans with Disabilities Act or an equivalent state law. Alternately or additionally, workers might have to file private lawsuits to gain relief. Consult an attorney about filing a lawsuit.
Independent contractors are generally not eligible for benefits under workers' compensation laws. That's because such benefits are for employees. Independent contractors (ICs) are not employees under workers' compensation laws, because they are self-employed.
But, ICs might be retroactively eligible, if worker's compensation boards (or other government agencies) determine that employers have misclassified employees as ICs. Employees who are moonlighting as ICs (or vice versa) and suffer injuries or illnesses from working their employee jobs, might be eligible for state workers' compensation insurance benefits from their employee jobs.
For specific information about workers' compensation laws, benefits or appeals in the state in which you work, contact the state workers' compensation agency or browse its Web site. Alternately or additionally, consult an attorney who specializes in workers' compensation law and lawsuits for the state in which you work.
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