By Russ Haugen
If you have been injured at work, you must take several steps to protect yourself and your rights to workers’ compensation benefits. It is important to speak with a lawyer – but there are several other things that you should also do as soon as possible.
1. Notify your employer of the accident
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires an employee to notify their employer within 45 days of the accident. However, the sooner the better. A delay in reporting the accident to your employer may give them (or their insurance carrier) an opportunity to argue that the injury resulted from a non-work related accident.
While the law allows the notice to be given verbally or in writing, we strongly recommend that it is done in writing. Most employers require an injured employee to fill out an accident report following a work injury. If you complete an accident report at the request of your employer, you should always request a copy of the report. If your employer doesn’t require an accident report to be filled out, it would still be beneficial to provide written notice to your employer.
Reporting your work injury to a co-worker, who is not part of management, is not sufficient notice under the Act. The notice must be provided to your supervisor or an individual in upper management (i.e. Human Resource).
2. Obtain medical treatment
Depending on the severity of the injury, this may be the first thing you do after an accident. You shouldn’t delay treatment for a serious injury to comply with #1 (reporting the injury to your employer).
You have the right to obtain treatment by a doctor of your choice. In fact, you have the right to two choices of medical providers. Under the Act, you are not required to treat with the company clinic. However, you do have to comply with any drug or alcohol screening requirements of your employer.
The initial history you provide to your doctor regarding the work accident is very important. Make sure that you provide details to your doctor regarding how the accident happened and the symptoms that you have been experiencing since the accident.
Again, consistent with #1, it is important to obtain medical treatment soon after the work accident. The longer you wait to get treatment, the harder it will be to prove that your injuries are related to the work accident.
If your employer has a Preferred Provider Program (only applies to injuries occurring after 6/28/11), your failure to treat with a doctor within the network will constitute as one of your two choices.
3. Notify your employer of your work status
At the time you seek treatment, your doctor should address your work status. You will be (1) taken off work; (2) put on light-duty restrictions; or (3) released back to full duty work. Whatever category you fall into, you must notify your employer and provide them with the documentation of your work status. If you are put on light-duty restrictions and your employer can accommodate those restrictions, it is extremely important that you attempt to do that light duty work. However, if your employer is not really accommodating your restrictions or if you experience additional pain while working the light duty, you should immediately go back to your doctor to get an updated work status.
Your entitlement to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits is based upon your work status. That is why it is so important to know your work status and to provide that information to your employer. You should ask your doctor to address your work status at every appointment. More importantly, you shouldn’t leave your doctor’s office without an updated work status note.
4. File a workers’ compensation claim
To ensure that you receive the benefits you are entitled to under the law, you should file a claim. Simply reporting the injury to your employer and setting up a “claim” with their insurance carrier is not enough. An application for adjustment of claim must be filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. While it is possible for an individual to file a claim on their own, this should be done by an experienced attorney who concentrates their practice in workers’ compensation claims.
Even if you believe that the insurance carrier is doing everything they should (paying for medical treatment and/or paying for lost wages), you should contact an attorney to confirm that you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to.
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