When Should You File A Workers' Comp Claim?
Under the Workers' Compensation Law, you only have six months from the time you think you suffered a work-related injury (or should have known that you suffered a work-related injury) to properly notify your employer. Once reported, the burden is on your employer to file what is called a First Report of Injury. This should be done even if your employer doesn't have workers' compensation insurance.
Now taking it one step further, you must bring a workers' compensation claim within three years of the date the First Report of Injury was filed with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Again, if you do not bring a claim within three years of the filing of the First Report of Injury, you may lose your right to claim workers' compensation benefits.
Finally, if you do give your employer notice within the six-month period but for some reason no First Report of Injury was filed by your employer, you have six years from the date of your injury to file a workers' compensation claim. Of course, it's best to file a claim as soon as possible after the accident...even if you are not sure the injury will be covered by workers' compensation.
What Benefits Are You Entitled To?
If you miss work because of an injury, you are entitled to two-thirds of your wage loss in the form of temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. For example, if you were making $500 per week before your were injured, your TTD benefits would be $350. There is a catch, however.
TTD benefits are limited by a ceiling which is adjusted each year. If two-thirds of your salary exceeds the ceiling, you will not receive additional compensation.
Your wage-loss benefits are computed on your gross average weekly wage. Generally, this number is determined by multiplying your wage rate times the number of hours that you were hired to work in a week. What happens if your wages are irregular or vary from week to week?
Then the workers' compensation insurer must go back and look at 26 weeks of work prior to your injury, add up your gross wages for the weeks that you worked during that period, and divide by the number of weeks worked to arrive at your average weekly wage.
You may also be entitled to benefits if your injury causes permanent partial disability (PPD), which means the loss of function in some part of your body. Your treating physician would assign you a PPD rating under the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Disability Schedule.
These ratings would be combined and expressed in terms of a percentage disability to your body as a whole. Once you receive these ratings, you should submit them to the workers' compensation insurer for a lump sum payment.
You are also entitled to any reasonable medical and rehabilitation expenses incurred for the care and treatment of your injury and your return to suitable work. Unfortunately, the Workers' Compensation Act does not cover pain and suffering or the loss of assets such as savings or investments.
Retraining Benefits Are Not Automatic
Retraining benefits under workers' compensation are not automatic under the law and, for a variety of reasons, may not be available under certain circumstances. Before any rehabilitation is started, the rehabilitation consultant will try to be absolutely certain about your medical condition and limitations, and how they might affect your employability.
This consultant will then try to return you to employment that most closely approaches the economic position and potential that you held at the time of your injury, whether that requires retraining or not. Since each situation is different, we suggest you consult an attorney for further evaluation.
Your Employer Refuses To File An Accident Report, Or Worse Yet...Doesn't Have Workers' Comp Insurance
If any employee reports that he or she has been injured on the job, the law requires the employer to file a First Report of Injury with the Department of Labor and Industry. If the employer refuses to file this report, the employee should contact the Department immediately. They will then contact the employer and make sure that a First Report of Injury is filed. An employer who still refuses to cooperate can be fined.
If the employer is required by law to carry workers' compensation and doesn't, the Minnesota Special Compensation Fund will step in and pay your benefits with some exceptions. Certain employers are not required to carry workers' compensation insurance like a "family farm" that paid less than $8,000 in cash wages to employees for the preceding year, or the sole owners of a business who have elected not to carry workers' compensation insurance for themselves. In these cases, you would not be able to apply for benefits from the Fund.
The first thing to do if you are in this situation is find out if your employer is required to carry workers' compensation insurance. Contact an attorney as soon as possible, or call the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. In addition, you may be able to sue for negligence if an employer required to do so doesn't carry workers' compensation insurance.
Can You Be Fired For Filing A Workers' Comp Claim?
NO! Minnesota law prohibits an employer from "discharging or threatening" to discharge an employee for seeking workers' compensation benefits. And the penalties are stiff: guilty employers must pay lost workers' compensation benefits, attorney fees and punitive damages. There may also be an additional claim separate from workers' compensation for wrongful termination or employment discrimination.
The problem with these cases is that it is often tough to prove that the worker was fired because he or she sought workers' comp benefits. Usually the employer will claim the discharge was related to performance or behavior.
Here's some advice for workers who have been threatened or fired for seeking workers' comp benefits:
- Expect recrimination. Employees who threaten to bring suit under this statute are often singled out by an unhappy employer as "trouble makers."
- Collect evidence. Keep any letters, employment manuals, etc., you might have received from your employer regarding your employment. Record the names of anyone who might have witnessed threats or intimidation related to your workers' comp claim.
- Talk to an attorney. These are difficult and complex cases, so get the advice and counsel of an experienced workers' comp attorney.
- The Insurance Company Is Trying To Cut Off Your Benefits
If you are receiving any type of ongoing workers' compensation benefits, the employer and his insurance company are required to send you a Notice of Intention to Discontinue Benefits form which is printed on a pink sheet. They are required to state the reasons they are stopping your benefits.
They are also required to attach any medical report or other evidence which supports their reasons for discontinuing your benefits. Also contained with the Notice form are instructions on how to obtain an administrative conference to determine whether the discontinuance was appropriate.
You should read those instructions very carefully and request a conference as soon as possible if you believe your benefits were improperly stopped. Do this right away as you may be required to request this conference within 12 days from the date on the notice.
If you have any questions at all regarding whether you might be entitled to further benefits, you should contact a workers' compensation attorney or the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. They can help you determine what your rights might be in this case.
Disputed Claims Can Take Time To Resolve
Once a workers' compensation claim is denied and the employee has retained an attorney, the attorney will generally file a Claim Petition for the benefits as soon as possible. This may take one to two months, depending on the attorney's access to the appropriate supporting records.
Once a Claim Petition is filed, it takes about eight to 12 months to obtain a hearing before a Compensation Judge who would decide the issues raised by the Claim Petition. In a fair number of cases, the Compensation Judge's decision may be appealed to the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals which may take another eight months. If disputed issues remain, a case could be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Of course, in any case, the issues could be resolved at any time through settlement. Each case is different and depends on the particular facts surrounding the issues. Consequently, it is impossible to predict how long any individual case will take before final resolution.
A hearing can also be expedited based on the severe financial hardship of the employee. In most cases, an employee may receive an earlier hearing if the Judge decides that the employee's financial difficulties create a need for a faster resolution of the claim.