As we pass Labor Day many folks are returning to school. Colleges and graduate schools are great options for many people; but they are not for everyone. Vocational schooling is an excellent option for people who are skilled with their hands.
Unfortunately, while work in the construction industry can be very rewarding, it is also physical and risky work.
While vocational schools do an excellent job of teaching the nuts and the bolts of industry they should also teach their students about their rights and obligations if they are one of the unfortunates who sustain a work-related injury.
Some of those lessons should include:
1) It is very important to know that you are obligated to report your injury to your employer within 30 days of the injury. If you do not report the injury within 30 days, your claim can be denied on that basis alone.
Notice of an injury is not too complicated when the injury occurs as a result of a specific event, such as a fall. But “gradual” injuries are also work related. Injuries often occur as a result of repetitive trauma or physical work.
In those situations it is often difficult to determine when the 30 day notice period begins. Is it the first day of pain, the first day of lost time or the first day of medical care? It could be any of those things. Your obligation to report a gradual injury occurs when it becomes apparent to you that your work is causing your problems.
We often see folks who are reluctant to report workers’ compensation claims to their employer. Maybe they do not want to make waves. Perhaps they are afraid of how their employer may react or they simply think that the injury is a minor problem that will go away. Do not wait. It is much better to report the injury and then find out it is a minor issue than it is to wait and find out that the minor problem has developed into a disabling condition.
2) You have the right to medical care. Unlike most health insurance, workers’ compensation insurers must cover 100% of medical costs, including any out of pocket expenses such as mileage to and from the doctors. You are entitled to treatment as long as you continue to suffer the effects of your injury.
3) You have the right to choose your own doctor. The employer does have the right to select a doctor for you. However, your obligation to see the employer’s doctor ends ten days after your first doctor visit. Employers often fail to mention the fact that after ten days you are free to see a doctor of your own choice.
4) You have the right to stay in work or return to work, even if you cannot perform your regular job. If you can perform the “essential functions” of your job, if your job can be reasonably modified to accommodate your restrictions or if there is lighter work available that you can perform, you have the right to return to work.
5) On the other hand, your employer cannot force you to work beyond your restrictions. You have the right to refuse to perform work that is too physical for you to perform.
6) If your injury forces you out of work you have the right to lost time benefits at 2/3rds of your gross “average weekly wage”. If you can work but your injury prevents you from earning your regular pay, you are entitled to 2/3rds of the difference between your current wages and the wages you were able to earn at the time of your injury. In either case, those benefits are not taxable.
7) You may have the right to collect both workers’ compensation and social security disability benefits.
8) If your employer contests your right to medical care or lost time benefits you have the right to seek a hearing to force them to pay you.
9) There are statutes of limitations that apply to workers’ compensation claims. Once an injury occurs a “Petition” must be filed with the Workers’ Compensation Board or a “payment” must be made within two years of the date of injury. Once a payment is made the right to compensation ends six-years after the last payment is issued on the claim.
These rights and obligations should be taught at all vocational schools across the country so we can protect our workers when they are hurt. It’s an important topic to discuss and can prevent long-term physical and financial suffering in the future.
About the author: Kevin Noonan is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. He can be reached at 207-725-5581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.