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Workers’ Compensation Frequently Asked Questions - Part One

Accidents happen at work all the time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 69,000 employees were injured, or became ill, while at work in North Carolina in the year 2019. Fortunately for North Carolinians, that rate is below the national average. What happens if you are injured at work? Who pays for your injuries or the time lost from work? 

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation is state mandated insurance that employers must have to cover employee injuries when an employee is injured at work because of a work related accident or disease. 

Workers’ compensation covers diagnostic and medical treatments necessary to fix the injury. It includes things like doctors bills, prescriptions and rehabilitation services. It can also cover lost wages for the time an injured employee is out of work. 

Workers’ compensation is basically two promises. First, it is a promise from the employer to the employee that it will pay the employee for covered injuries. Second, it is a promise from the employee to the employer that in exchange for medical coverage and coverage for lost wages, the employee will not sue the employer for his/her injuries.

Do all employers have to provide workers’ compensation insurance?

North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act requires that employers with 3 or more employees have workers’ compensation insurance. This applies to both public and private employers, including the state of North Carolina. There are some exceptions, including employers of domestic household workers like private housekeepers, certain railroads and federal government employees working in North Carolina. For the full list of exceptions see NC Gen. Stat. §97-13. 

Is anyone injured at work covered by workers’ compensation? 

No. First and foremost, workers’ compensation applies only to employees. In addition to the exceptions articulated in section 13 of North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, independent contractors are not considered to be employees and therefore are not entitled to workers’ compensation if injured on the job.

Assuming no exception applies, there are three main requirements for an injury to be eligible for  workers’ compensation. The injury: 

  1. must have resulted from an accident; 
  2. must have arisen out of employment; and
  3. must have happened during the course and scope of the employee’s job.  

It is important to understand that injuries that occur as a routine part of your job are not considered to have resulted from an accident, and will not be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. For example, if your job involves filing and you break your hand while opening the filing cabinet, unless there was something faulty about the cabinet, your broken hand will likely not be covered. 

If an employee is traveling to or from work and is injured on the ride, that injury will likely not be covered by workers’ compensation. If however an employee is injured while delivering something on an employer’s behalf, that injury would likely be covered. 

What if I wasn’t physically injured but developed an occupational disease?

Certain occupational diseases are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-53 lists 23 diseases deemed to be occupational. They include: anthrax, arsenic poisoning, lead poisoning, radium poisoning, tenosynovitis, carbon monoxide poisoning, asbestosis, and hearing loss.

Section 97-53(13) of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is a catch-all which provides that “[a]ny disease . . . proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment . . .” will also be covered even though not specifically articulated. 

To show that you have a compensable occupational illness, you will need to show that your job caused the injury, not something else in your life. This could be difficult in some cases. For example, if you are bringing a claim for lead poisoning, you need to show that you got the lead poisoning from your job. If in addition to your normal job, you worked on the side restoring old homes which exposed you to old lead pipes and paint with lead in it, you will have a more difficult time proving that your job was the cause of the lead poisoning. 

Are there any injuries that are rarely covered by workers’ compensation?

It will be hard to prove that certain injuries occured as the result of an accident while on the job. Examples include back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. Both back injuries and carpal tunnel can easily occur as a result of things you do in your daily life, including cleaning your house or paying your bills. You would need to show that the job specifically caused your back injury or carpal tunnel, which could be hard. 

What steps should I take if I’m injured on the job?

The first step of course is to seek medical attention. You may be able to do that at work or you may need to go to the hospital or doctor depending on the severity of your injuries. You should inform the medical provider that you were injured on the job. As soon as practical, you should advise your employer that you were injured on the job. You will need to provide your employer with a written statement detailing the injury and the circumstances leading to it. You should gather any evidence that might increase your chances of receiving workers’ compensation. For example, if you were injured by a piece of falling ceiling, you should take a picture of the hole in the ceiling and the piece of ceiling that hit you, as well as any visible bruises or injuries.

It might be a good idea to consult with a Charlotte, North Carolina attorney as soon as you are able to after your injury to make sure that your rights are protected and that all deadlines are met. 

Call Our Charlotte, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys 

The Charlotte, NC lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced workers’ compensation lawyers. They are available to discuss your injuries with you and help you navigate the legal process. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.

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