What Is Workers’ Compensation?
The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act is a no-fault insurance system designed to compensate injured workers for lost wages and medical expenses. A no-fault system means that it does not matter who caused the injury. Even if the worker caused his or her own injury accidentally, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Therefore, if your employer tells you that your claim is being denied because your injury was “your own fault,” he or she is either wrong or lying to you. The only recourse an employee has against his or her employer when injured on the job is through the Workers’ Compensation Act. Even if the employer or a co-employee caused the injury through negligence, an injured worker cannot sue him or her for pain and suffering. This is called the “exclusivity provision” of the Act.
The Act was not designed to replace all of the wages lost by the injured worker, but only a percentage of those wages in a non-taxable form of weekly or bi-weekly checks. The Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide any compensation for the pain and suffering the injury has caused. It pays for lost wages and medical bills for injuries and diseases that occur as a result of employment.
Every employer in Minnesota is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Some employers are self-insured, which means that they pay benefits out of their own bank accounts. Through an amendment to the law, the state has established a fund to pay for claims where the employer has failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits begins the moment you are hired. The Workers’ Compensation Act applies to all employees, regardless of the number of workers an employer has.
Further, if you are a volunteer firefighter or rescue worker, you are also entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries you sustain while performing these important volunteer services.
1. Suing Your Employer, Co-Employees, or Other “Third Persons”
You cannot sue your employer or in most cases your co-employees if they cause your workplace injury, so long as your employer carried workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Employers who do not carry workers’ compensation insurance are violating the law and are subject to fines and individual liability.
You can sue a third party — someone who is not your employer or co-employee — if your work injury was caused in whole or in part by the third party. For example, if you are a truck driver and you are rear-ended by someone while performing your job, if you are a construction worker injured because of a defective scaffold, if you are a production worker who is injured by a machine not equipped with proper safety guards, if you fall on ice that is somewhere other than your employers’ premises, or if you are further injured by the medical malpractice of a doctor hospital, you may have the ability to pursue a separate civil cause of action.
In these types of circumstances, you can pursue both a workers’ compensation claim and a civil lawsuit at the same time. If you receive money as a result of the third party lawsuit, the insurer is entitled to be paid back the workers’ compensation benefits you received. This is called a lien or “subrogation.”
2. Injuries Covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act
The Workers’ Compensation Act applies to any and all types of injuries or occupational diseases occurring during the course and scope of employment. The Act applies even if you have a pre-existing condition, known or unknown to you and your employer. One of the most common examples of this is back and neck injuries. If you have a bad back and then have a work injury that makes it worse, that is called an aggravation.
If you have an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, you are entitled to collect workers’ compensation benefits from your employer. Therefore, if you employer or their insurer tells you that you are not entitled to workers’ compensation because you had a pre-existing condition, he or she is either mistaken or lying to you.
If your injury or occupational disease results in your death, certain members of your family may be entitled to collect workers’ compensation. For example, a widow or widower or other dependent who was dependent upon the injured worker at the time of death is allowed to collect certain benefits.
If you are injured either on your way to or coming home from work, your injury is normally not covered by the Act. However, if your job requires you to travel, you have no fixed place of employment, or you maintain a home office, then you may be covered. Also, if you are injured in a parking lot owned or provided by your employer, the injury may also be covered.
Certain mental or physiological conditions caused by the work environment (e.g. stress), which were not caused by or did not result in a physical injury, may not be covered as compensable injuries under the Act. However, the Act has been modified to cover a diagnosis of PTSD in certain circumstances.
3. Employees Covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act
Any employee who is injured in Minnesota is covered under the Act. An employee is any person who performs services for another for money. It does not matter if the job is part-time or seasonal in nature. Members of volunteer organizations such as fire departments and rescue squads are considered employees as well, even though they are not paid employees. Federal government workers, military personnel, railroad workers, maritime workers, and National Guard members are all covered under separate and different statutory compensation laws.
4. Occupational Illnesses or Diseases
Workers exposed to certain toxic chemicals that cause cancer or other illnesses are covered by the Act. Injuries and illnesses covered by this part of the Act include: cancers caused by exposure to asbestos, coal, silica, hepatitis; diseases of the heart and lungs caused by exposure to heat and smoke; poisoning caused by methane, arsenic, mercury, or lead; and infections of the skin caused by chemical exposure. Also covered under the Act are injuries caused by exposure to other health hazards including loud noise, dust, fumes, etc.
If a worker’s illness or disease was caused or contributed to by these work conditions, he or she is entitled to collect workers’ compensation benefits. If you feel that your medical condition was in any way related to your job, you need to discuss this with your doctor immediately. Ask your doctor if he or she agrees that your job caused your illness in whole or in part. If your doctor agrees, you must then provide your employer with immediate “notice” that your condition was caused by your job.
5. How Much Does Workers’ Compensation Pay?
Workers’ compensation benefits normally pay two-thirds of an employee’s gross Average Weekly Wage (AWW), up to a maximum amount. If you are normally paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis from your employer, your workers’ compensation benefits should also be paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Your workers’ compensation check should be mailed directly to your home or by directly deposit. You do not have to physically travel to your employer or its insurance carrier to pick up your check. If you are told that you must pick up your check, you may decline.
An employer has 14 days from the date it is put on notice of your injury to either accept or deny your injury is work-related or disabling to you. You should therefore begin to receive checks within 14 days of the date you were last able to work, along with a Notice of Primary Liability Determination. If your claim is denied, you should contact a workers’ compensation attorney immediately to assist you in filing a lawsuit. If your employer does not pay you and you do not receive a Notice of Primary Liability Determination within 14 days, you can also file for penalties assessed to the employer or insurer.
6. Notice: Reporting Your Injury to Your Employer
As soon as you are injured on the job, you should report the injury to your employer, even if the injury does not cause you to miss time from work. The notice should be given in writing, but if that is not possible, remember that you must report that you were injured and that your injury was caused by your job.
The injury must be reported to your supervisor the person whose job it is to prepare injury reports. Telling your co-workers is not sufficient notice-you must tell your boss or supervisor. You have up to 180 days to report your injury to your employer. The time begins from the date of your injury or the date you know or should have known of a work injury or disease. If you do not provide notice within 14 days, you will not be entitled to recover workers’ compensation benefits until the date that you actually give notice, as long as notice is given within 180 days. Failure to give notice within 30 days may negatively impact the amount you can receive and in almost no case will benefits be payable if notice is not given within 180 days.
7. Medical Treatment for Your Work Injury
The Workers’ Compensation Act permits you to choose and, in some cases, change your health care provider. If you treat with a single provider twice for the same injury, that person is deemed to be your “primary” provider. You may change providers without authorization or approval once within the first 60 days of treatment. After that date, the change must be approved by the insurer, the Department of Labor and Industry, or a judge.
When receiving treatment for the injury, you must tell your doctor how the injury occurred, your job duties, and your physical limitations. The more information your doctor has about your work injury, the less likely it is that the workers’ compensation insurer will delay payment.
8. Average Weekly Wage
It is very common for the workers’ compensation insurer to miscalculate the Average Weekly Wage (AWW). The amount of weekly age loss benefits you are to be paid is based solely on your AWW at the time of the injury. Therefore, it is very important that you make sure your employer or the insurer made this calculation correctly.
Your Temporary Total Disability benefit (TTD) rate is two-thirds of your AWW up to a maximum set by law. There are also minimum compensation rates applicable to low wage earners. You do not need to pay income taxes on the workers’ compensation benefits you receive.
Your AWW is the total of all gross wages (before taxes) from every employer that you are working for at the time of your injury. The figure also includes overtime, bonuses, incentives, tips (if reported to the IRS), board, lodging, and vacation pay. If you are paid a fixed amount per week, your AWW is your weekly gross wage; if you receive a fixed monthly income, multiply your monthly income by 12 and divide that number by 52.
If your compensation fluctuates from week to week, your AWW may be based on an average of the 26 weeks just prior to the injury. Sometimes, however, this amount will not be an accurate reflection of what you could have expected to earn had the injury not occurred. In these cases, you can file a petition to request a judge change the AWW and thereby the wage benefits you receive.
Contact Us For More Answers
Contact us online or call Midwest Disability Work Comp, P.A., at 888-365-1477 for a free case evaluation and consultation. All cases are taken on contingency, meaning there are no fees until we recover benefits.