When I first got hurt at my job, I didn’t think much of it. I thought I had a back strain or pulled muscle at worst. My supervisor told me to go to our company designated doctor and get the injury checked out and keep her updated. I was unaware that I was stepping into the lion’s den of the workers compensation system.
I had my injury treated as a simply back strain. The doctor gave me a note for working that said I couldn’t sit, stand, or move for more than 15-minutes at a time. To my employer, this meant I couldn’t work as they weren’t able to accommodate those restrictions.
Workers Compensation is Not a Long Vacation
I was banged up pretty bad, which is why I wasn’t working, but I wasn’t exactly enjoying the highlife at home. After a five-day waiting period, I started receiving bi-weekly checks from the insurance company for total temporary disability. These checks were a fraction of my wages – 67% to be exact.
In a matter of weeks I learned that my simple back strain was a bone fragment in my spinal canal, and I needed surgery. Over the next few months, after surgery, rehab, and check-ups, I saw more doctors than I had ever seen in my life. Each doctor had a different explanation for my pain, and a new referral to another doctor who would fix it. My new full-time job was seeing doctors and managing my pain.
No Privacy for Injured Workers
Like clockwork every two weeks, I spoke to my employer and answered a series of questions about every detail of my recovery. She usually ended the conversation with a causal note at how long I had been gone from work, but I couldn’t do anything. I was off work until the doctor’s released me, and preferably, pain-free.
In the workers compensation system, I had no privacy. And worse, I was in continuous pain. I went through five separate rehabilitation programs, unsuccessfully. I had doctors whom I just met ask me about the intimate details of my sex life. At one point, I was referred to a psychiatrist to “prove” the pain was in my head. Fortunately, the session vindicated me rather than prove I had a psychiatrist problem.
Workers compensation exists for a reason, and it is beneficial to employees and employers. Unfortunately, a few too many have taken advantage of the system and some of us have to pay for that. After almost two years, I am finally going to have a second surgery that will hopefully correct the pain, but for now, the surgery is at my expense.
Tips to Succeeding in Workers Compensation
Here are the tips I have learned to maximize success in the workers compensation system:
- Report any work-related injury to your supervisor or manager as soon as possible.
- Keep a record of the names of every nurse, doctor, and specialist you visit.
- Ask about any procedure you’re uncomfortable with, and see if there’s an alternative.
- Maintain contact with your supervisor or human resources if taken off work.
- Immediately contact your employer’s workers compensation carrier if your benefit checks are late, or you believe the amount is incorrect.
- Record conversations between you and your doctor using your phone or similar device. (Check the laws in your state to find out if you need consent to record.)
- Contact your state’s industrial commission to learn about your rights while injured.
- Decide if you need a worker’s compensation attorney, or if you can handle your case on your own.
Workers compensation is overwhelming. At times, I felt like handling my case was a full-time job. I spent hours familiarizing myself with the laws and my rights so that I knew how to protect myself.
Find an overview of each state’s workers compensation laws at WorkersCompensation.com.
For federal workers, the United States Department of Labor provides its own benefits and rights for injured workers .