When you’re injured on the job, the very last thing you may be thinking about is your employer’s workers’ compensation procedures and policies. In an instant, your health, job, and routine have been disrupted. It’s difficult to know exactly what to focus on first so that you can restore some order to your life.
As a North Carolina workers’ comp attorney, I have helped many people who have sustained work injuries in NC and are unsure of their next steps. I have witnessed the confusion, hesitancy to report an injury, and delayed actions that can lead to complications with workers’ compensation claims.
In this article, I will tackle some of the most common questions that I see injured workers grapple with – the who, what, how, and when questions – about reporting work-related injuries. Hopefully, these Q&As will help you understand when to report a work-related injury (spoiler alert: ASAP!), and then step you through the basics of what you need to do afterward.
What Do You Do if You Are Injured on the Job?
If you have been hurt on the job, report it to your employer immediately, and in writing, if possible. This reporting issue is critical. One of the first questions asked in workers’ compensation claims is, “Has the client reported the injury or accident to his or her employer?” And often, the answer will help determine whether that client is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An employee’s failure to report an injury is one of the most frequent reasons insurance companies cite for denying a claim.
What does “immediately” mean? North Carolina law requires an employee to report an injury within 30 days. Immediately reporting your injury in writing can help you avoid one of the biggest reasons for having your claim denied. A claim in which written notice has not been provided within 30 days can be barred.
What Does the Law Require When Filing Your Workers’ Comp Claim?
So, what do you need to know about the timing and method of reporting your workers’ comp claim? The law is clear that your claim must meet two criteria: you must provide notice of an injury within 30 days, and you must submit the notice in writing.
The Law Requires Notice Within 30 Days
The NC Workers’ Compensation Act provides specific instruction regarding how many days you have to report a work injury.
“Every injured employee or his representative shall immediately on the occurrence of an accident, or as soon thereafter as practicable, give or cause to be given to the employer a written notice of the accident… (emphasis added) If written notice is not given within 30 days, no compensation shall be payable.”
I recognize that running to your employer at the first sign of a tweaked back can go against the grain of our culture’s emphasis on ruggedness and “sticking it out.” Many clients have confided in me that they didn’t report a back injury right away because they thought it was only a minor sprain, and they didn’t want to cause trouble at work. However, by not reporting minor tweaks and sprains, they potentially jeopardize their workers’ compensation claims if the injury proves to be more serious.
This may come as a surprise, but it’s been my experience that some workers’ compensation insurance companies don’t seem to prioritize “doing the right thing” for an injured worker. I have seen insurance claims adjusters latch onto obscure reasons when attempting to deny a claim. Failing to immediately report an injury provides a technical and legal basis for them to deny you. Don’t give this to them.
What’s more, some employers seem to have a suspicion of workers’ compensation claims. A delay in reporting can heighten these suspicions and adversely affect your credibility. Time and time again, I’ve seen it play out that injured workers who report their injuries immediately are more likely to be believed and to have their claims accepted.
The Law Requires Notice in Writing
Report your accident in writing because immediate written notice helps support your claim. Some assume that verbally reporting their injury – telling a manager, supervisor, or coworker what happened – is sufficient. They may be wrong. I cannot emphasize enough that failing to provide written notice can legally bar you from recovering any benefits.
Thankfully, there is a common-sense exception that makes this rule less of a pitfall for injured workers. If the employee has a reasonable excuse for not providing written notice within 30 days, and the employer is not harmed by the delay, the employee can still seek compensation. This exception arises most frequently when the employer has “actual notice” of the workplace injury – such as when the employer is notified immediately or knows of it first-hand.
The real concern is whether an employer and its insurance company are harmed by the injured worker’s failure to provide notice. If an employer is aware that an injury occurred, it would be difficult to argue that they were harmed by a lack of written notice. With actual notice of a workplace injury, the employer has an opportunity to investigate, interview witnesses, and send the injured worker to a doctor of their choosing.
As a practical matter, however, even if your employer has actual notice of your injury, you should always submit a written notice of injury as soon as possible. Providing written notice fully complies with the law and documents that notice was given.
Bottom line: Don’t rely on your employer’s knowledge of your injury. Be safe, comply with the law – provide written notice.
How Do You Report an Injury at Work?
As long as your report of the injury is in writing, the sky’s the limit. You can complete a formal accident report, deliver a handwritten letter, type out an email, or even send a text message to your employer. It all counts.
However, there are a few important pieces of information you’ll want to include:
- Your name and address
- The time, place, nature, and cause of the accident
- The nature of the resulting injury
Make sure you indicate very clearly that the injury happened at work or while on the job. Also, save a copy of the correspondence just in case you need to prove at some point down the road that you reported your injury.
If there is not a formal process stating how to report a workplace injury at your place of employment, the best practice is to report your injury, in writing, to someone in a position of authority. Does your company have a human resources department? Are you able to reach your direct supervisor or general manager?
Don’t assume that your employer has received notice of your injury just because you texted one of your coworkers about it. Try to get your written report into the hands of someone higher up the chain than you.
Who Files a Workers’ Comp Claim?
In North Carolina, the injured worker has the responsibility for filing a workers’ compensation claim. So after you inform your employer (in writing and within 30 days, remember?), you will need to fill out Form 18 and file it with the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC), as well as provide a copy to your employer. Again, be sure to keep a copy for your own records as well!
What Does My Employer File?
Employers are responsible for filing an injury report Form 19 with the NCIC as soon as they are notified of an employee’s injury. Ideally, your employer will do this immediately and give you a copy. But what happens if an employer does not report an accident – if they fail or refuse to? Well, that may become a factor when your claim is reviewed.
And that is yet another reason why it’s important to notify your employer in writing when reporting a work injury: this way, you will have a paper trail showing that you followed the proper procedure.
How Does Early Reporting Help My Workers’ Comp Claim?
Reporting work injuries early allows an employer to investigate the cause of the accident and correct safety problems before being cited for an OSHA violation and/or before a coworker is hurt more seriously or even killed.
If you’re hurt on the job and fail to report the injury immediately, your opportunity for a workers’ compensation claim may be diminished or denied, meaning you could lose out on valuable medical help or compensation for lost work time. Alerting an employer to an injury can also allow you to seek treatment before the injury becomes worse and leads to more missed work time, bigger medical bills, and higher workers’ compensation costs.
While work injuries may start out small, in our experience, they often have the potential to become more serious, chronic conditions if left untreated. When treatment is finally sought out, the workers’ comp claim may be denied if the initial injuries weren’t reported.
If you still have questions about reporting your work injury, please give us a call at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online for a free case evaluation. We have helped many people dealing with insurance companies who have denied their claims because of reporting issues. We will fight hard to protect your rights so that you can focus on healing.