This has been the subject of previous posts on this site but it is important enough that a friendly reminder is always in order. It seems that at least once every month I speak with someone who has a possible work injury claim which has not been reported. There are several reasons why you might not report a possible work injury, but the consequences of failing to give notice can be disastrous and might result in the loss of any possible work comp benefits.
Possible Reasons for Not Reporting an Injury
There are a number of reasons why a person might not report a possible work injury to his or her employer. These reasons might range from ignorance to fear, but the end result can be just as bad.
1. I didn’t know this might be covered by work comp: This is actually a pretty common scenario where you have a medical condition that doesn’t seem like a “work injury”. This could be respiratory problems related to exposure to chemicals, dust, smoke or other irritants in the workplace. It might be a gradually increasing pain or discomfort in your wrists, knees or shoulders from repetitive work activities. (for more information about repetitive injuries, check out this previous post “What is a Repetitive or Gillette work injury in Minnesota?”) In any event, if you believe that you have a medical condition which is related in any way to your work activities, you should notify your employer immediately, simply to protect any potential future claims. If it turns out that the condition is not work related or is only temporary, the issue has at least been documented for your protection.
2. I never had a specific injury: This is similar to #1. Many, if not most, people don’t know that a specific work injury is not required to qualify for work comp benefits. While a specific injury is the easiest type of injury to prove, repetitive work activities which lead to a medical problem or a disabling condition are covered by work comp the same as a specific injury. You are eligible for the same wage loss, medical and vocational rehabilitation benefits with either type of claim. However, it is again very important to give your employer notice as soon as you suspect that your medical problems might be related to your work activities.
3. I had a previous, similar medical problem: Many people believe that they cannot file for work comp benefits if they had a similar, previous health problem. This simply isn’t true. If you had a pre-existing back problem, for example, which was aggravated by a work injury or even by your regular work activities, you may be eligible for work comp benefits. The first step is to give notice to your employer of the possible connection and then you have the option to pursue claims if necessary. You can expect that the work comp insurer will likely deny the claim but you won’t even get to that point if you fail to give notice of a possible injury.
4. I am afraid I will lose my job if I report an injury: This is a common fear and somewhat understandable. However, there are a couple of things to consider about this concern. First, reporting an injury is not the same as filing a claim. Reporting an injury or a potential injury is simply letting your employer know about a possible claim. They will then turn the matter over to their work comp insurer for investigation. The injury may prove to be temporary, insignificant or unrelated to your work activities. Simply giving notice protects you but doesn’t necessarily mean you are making a claim.
Second, it is illegal for an employer to terminate you or otherwise retaliate against you for giving notice or pursuing a work injury claim. There are legal protections in place for you and all people injured on the job. Failing to give notice of a potential injury has much more serious consequences, particularly if you turn out to have a serious and disabling medical condition.
5. What qualifies as notice? The law states that you must provide written notice to your employer, so this is the best and safest way to proceed. The employer may have a form, typically called a First Report of Injury Form, which can be completed and turned in with the details of the injury or condition you feel is related to your work. You could also turn in any document which explains the nature of the injury you are claiming, how or when it occurred and how it is related to your work activities. The document should be signed and dated and you should obviously keep a copy for your own records. If you can’t turn in a written notice for some reason, at the very least you should directly notify the owner of the business, the most senior management person or your boss/supervisor as soon as possible. Again, keep a record of when you gave the notice and who you gave it to.
The point I am trying to make here is that you should never hesitate to notify your employer if you have a medical problem or injury which you think might be related to your work activities. Insurers are relying more and more these days on the defense that an employee has failed to give proper notice. There are time limits, possibly as short as 14 days, within which you are required to give notice. To avoid the possibility of losing your claim for lack of notice, don’t take any chances. If in doubt, notify your employer immediately and with as much detail as you can give.
If you have been injured on the job and have questions about your claim or the Minnesota work comp system, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can contact us, anytime, with questions about your case or to arrange an absolutely free consultation. It won’t cost you anything and we will always give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you. If you have questions about how much it costs to hire a lawyer for a Minnesota workers’ compensation case, you can check out this previous post.
Remember, you are dealing with an insurance company which handles hundreds or thousands of claims every day. They have experienced claims adjusters and attorneys managing their files. Even if you don’t need a lawyer at the moment, a little information about the work comp system can make a big difference for you in your dealings with the insurance company. At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 33 years.
As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a good source of work comp information and assistance for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.