Workers' Compensation Overview

Why is it important to understand workers’ compensation law?

Knowing how to use the workers’ comp system is the first step to recovery. Even in the safest workplace, accidents still happen. When a worker is injured, he has very specific rights under Michigan law. Knowledge is power. It is vital that injured workers understand their rights and responsibilities under the law.

What is workers’ compensation?

The legal rights of injured Michigan workers are covered under the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act of 1969. The Act covers men and woman injured on the job regardless of whether the injury was their fault or the fault of their employer. When a worker is injured due to the negligence of his employer, the worker’s only remedy against his employer is workers’ compensation. The worker cannot sue his employer for negligence to recover other damages which a jury may award such as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. Workers’ compensation benefits are the only recovery available to a worker against his negligent employers regardless of how severe or debilitating an injury may be. Likewise, the injured worker is entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits even if the injury is the result of his own negligence. An injured worker can sue his employer for damages greater than workers’ compensation in cases when the employer intentionally inflicts injury on the worker.

Workers’ compensation provides injured workers with three main benefits including wage loss during the time the worker is off due to his injury, reasonable and necessary medical care for the work injury, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. The scope of these benefits will be addressed in more detail later on.

What is a work injury?

A work injury can be a physical injury, mental injury, or an occupational illness or disease. A work injury does not have to be from a single traumatic event such as a fall, but may be due to the accumulation of work over time, environmental exposures in the work place, or even mental stress at work. The work injury need not be the sole cause of a medical condition to be considered work-related. Even pre-existing, non-work medical conditions which are aggravated or made worse by employment activities or a work injury are covered by the Worker’s Compensation Act.

A work injury is compensible if it causes, contributes to, or aggravates pathology that is medically distinguishable from any pathology that existed before the injury. A change in symptoms alone is not sufficient. Mental disabilities and conditions of the aging process (including heart conditions and degenerative arthritis) are compensible if the employment contributed to, aggravated, or accelerated the conditions in a significant manner.

How should an injured worker report an injury and make a claim?

A worker injured on the job should report the injury to his supervisor immediately. An injured worker is not required by law to give notice of the injury in writing, however, it is certainly to his advantage to have a written record that the injury was reported. The law says that an injured worker is to give notice of the injury within 90 days after the employee knew or should have known of the injury. Failure to give such notice to the employer shall be excused unless the employer can show it was prejudiced by the lack of notice.

After giving notice of injury, the employee must also make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Again, such a claim can be either oral or in writing but it is best if it is done in writing. An injured worker has two years from the date of injury to make a claim for benefits. Failure to make a timely claim for benefits will likely preclude the injured worker from receiving benefits.