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How do I apply for workers' compensation benefits?

Almost every state requires employers to provide workers' compensation insurance to cover the medical bills and lost wages of employees who suffer work-related illnesses or injuries. Although the procedures for applying for workers' compensation benefits vary from state to state, some general guidelines apply:

  • Notify your employer immediately if you are hurt on the job. State law may require that you report your injury within a certain amount of time. You may be required to provide formal written notice of the injury--for example, your name, address, occupation, and when and how you were injured. There also may be a time limit on how long you have to notify your employer about the injury.
  • Keep notes for yourself, including a description of what has happened, any witnesses, etc. Also, keep notes of who you talk to and when regarding your injury (e.g., the personnel department).
  • Get medical attention for your injury right away. Keep in mind, however, that even if you see your own doctor, you may also be required to see a doctor who is authorized to treat workers under the workers' compensation contract.
  • File a claim with your employer or the workers' compensation agency, whichever is required by your state. Here too, time limits vary for how long you have to file a claim. Typically, you have one or two years from the date of the injury to file a claim.