Report: Many workers don’t pursue or secure compensation after injuries

On behalf of Gary Nelson at Law Office of Gary C. Nelson

Research suggests many ill or injured workers don’t receive compensation for their conditions, and those who do may still suffer sizable financial losses.

The workers' compensation system is designed to financially support workers who sustain injuries or develop illnesses in the course of their jobs. Unfortunately, it may be fairly common for workers in Modesto to go without adequate compensation after they suffer physical or mental harm in the workplace. According to a new report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, many ill or injured workers never pursue compensation or receive adequate financial support.

Low compensation rates

Various studies suggest that a significant proportion of workers don't obtain any compensation after sustaining injuries that merit it. For instance, here in California, one study found that one-third of workers who suffered amputations that employers knew about still went without workers' compensation benefits. A similar proportion of employees who developed carpal tunnel syndrome and reported it to employers never received compensation, according to the same study.

Sometimes, injured workers may file workers' compensation claims that are later denied; however, in many cases, injury victims may not receive benefits because they fail to seek them. This may occur for various reasons, including:

  • Poor understanding of legal rights under the workers' compensation system
  • Concerns that filing a claim will adversely affect job security or career prospects
  • Confusion about the workers' compensation claim process
  • Lack of awareness that a gradual-onset condition, such as an occupational illness, is work-related
  • Other impediments, such as language barriers

Several studies have estimated that about four in ten people who could theoretically qualify for workers' compensation benefits fail to pursue those benefits. Troublingly, even when workers do seek and qualify for benefits, they may not receive enough compensation to offset the effects of a serious physical or mental ailment.

Harmful financial ramifications

People who receive workers' compensation benefits still frequently suffer financial losses in the wake of a work-related injury or illness. One study, which utilized data from New Mexico, found that the average worker saw an earnings decrease of 15 percent over the decade after an injury. This drop, which was evident after workers' compensation benefits were factored in, represented an average loss of $31,000. Some workers may face even more severe losses, depending on their salaries, injuries and remaining vocational abilities.

This fact that many workers suffer direct financial losses is troubling in light of the gradual adverse economic effects that work-related ailments can have. The OSHA report notes that these setbacks can make it difficult for workers to maintain positive relationships with co-workers and superiors. Additionally, work-related ailments can harm a person's sense of morale and confidence. Both effects may ultimately harm a person's earning power and long-term career prospects.

Claiming benefits in California

These OSHA findings underscore why it is critical that injured workers understand and exercise their rights. People who suffer injuries while working in California may be eligible for various types of workers' compensation benefits, including reimbursement of medical expenses, disability benefits and financial support to fund necessary vocational training. However, workers must first file claims and meet various associated criteria.

For most injured workers, legal deadlines present a crucial concern. Employees must report most injuries within 30 days or risk losing eligibility for benefits; additionally, workers generally must file claims within one year of the date of injury. To ensure that these deadlines are met and other legal criteria are satisfied, injured workers may benefit from consulting with a workers' compensation attorney as soon as reasonably possible.