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What to Do When Accidents Happen

There are two important actions to take when a job-related accident happens:

  • You must file an accident report with the appropriate workers' compensation agency in your state.
  • You should, at least initially, treat every injury as legitimate, even if the circumstances surrounding the injury make you suspicious.

File an accident report. Each state has its own laws that determine the time period within which reports must be filed. Your state agency will decide whether payments should be awarded to your employee. An appeal to a court of law is usually allowed only where the facts are in dispute. Payment of compensation benefits to your employee is usually made after a waiting period, most commonly three to seven days, and is retroactive.

Treat accidents as legitimate. Although workers' compensation laws protect you from lawsuits for workplace injuries, they don't completely insulate you from being sued. You could be sued by your employees, for example, for failing to provide them with the workers' compensation benefits to which they are entitled. Treating every accident as legitimate will help reduce the chances of your being sued. To treat every accident as legitimate, you should do the following:

  • Respond to the injured employee. This includes providing assistance, getting the facts from the employee about the accident, and telling the employee that there is a system available that will take care of the injuries.
  • Give first aid or get medical attention. This includes accompanying the employee to the medical provider.
  • Document the accident. This includes writing down what happened, which should be done within 24 hours of the accident, designating who should be the contact person who stays in touch with the family, and explaining to the employee which benefits are available.
  • Ensure prompt medical treatment. This includes following up with the medical care provider (although you should first get permission from the employee to contact the provider).
  • Follow up with the employee to file an accident report.

Work-related vs. nonwork-related accidents. Although the workers' compensation agency or the insurance company is the one that will determine whether an injury is work-related, you should make your own investigation if the question is in doubt. Don't forget that you may be better off if the accident is work-related because the workers' compensation laws generally protect you from liability (while the insurance company that has coverage is better off if the injury is determined to be nonwork-related). The issue is not always clear. Consider the following examples:

  • an employee is mugged in your parking lot
  • an employee who is performing work for you after hours is assaulted
  • an employee under stress commits suicide

Are the injuries work-related? It depends on the circumstances. The important point to remember is that if you believe an accident is work-related and that there is a chance that the agency or insurer will find that it is not work-related, you should gather any facts that you can that support your belief and be prepared to present your arguments to them.

Business Tools

A checklist for handling workers' compensation claims and collecting information is in the Business Tools area.