In most states, employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover workplace injuries sustained by their employees. Workers’ compensation insurance is a “no fault” system which allows every employee to receive benefits for a job-related injury, regardless of who caused the accident or illness, though intentional, self-inflicted injuries may be excluded from workers' compensation benefits. The system balances the needs of workers, who are entitled to receive prompt medical treatment for their injuries, with the needs of employers who can conduct their business operations free from the fear of being sued by an injured employee. Workers’ compensation programs can provide claimants with medical benefits and, provided certain requirements are met, temporary compensation payments until the employee is able to return to work. In certain situations, claimants may also receive permanent benefits such as job retraining or supportive medical care.
But what happens if you get hurt and your employer doesn’t have the required workers’ compensation insurance?
Regardless of whether your employer participates in a workers’ compensation insurance program, it is important that you seek medical attention immediately, to ensure you receive proper treatment and to document your injuries. Typically, an injured worker's only legal option for recovering compensation from the employer is to file a workers’ compensation claim. There are a few exceptions, however, such as when an employer intentionally causes the workplace injury, or when an employer fails to carry the required workers’ compensation insurance.
If you are injured and your employer does not participate in a workers’ compensation insurance program, there may be coverage available to you through a government fund for injured workers whose employers do not have the mandated workers’ compensation insurance. If you find yourself in this situation, check with your state’s Labor Department to find out what programs may be available in your area, and to report your employer’s non-compliance with the workers’ compensation laws.
Injured employees whose employers do not carry valid workers’ compensation coverage also have the option of filing a civil lawsuit against the uninsured employer to recover compensation for their damages. Through the civil court system, uninsured employers may have to pay substantially more in damages to cover the injured employee’s losses including medical bills, future lost earnings, and pain and suffering. In most jurisdictions, workers' compensation insurance programs limit the injured employee’s recovery by disallowing claims for “pain and suffering” or punitive damages which would be allowed in a civil lawsuit. Civil cases also differ from claims made through no-fault workers’ compensation programs in that certain legal principles may apply, such as “contributory negligence,” which can limit an employee’s recovery based on percentage of fault.
In most jurisdictions, employers who fail to carry workers’ compensation insurance are not only liable to their injured workers, but also face penalties for violating the law.