Workers’ compensation injuries don’t only refer to a list of injuries workers can receive benefits for. Workers’ compensation plans cover a wide range of ailments and health conditions if they occur under specific circumstances. Learn more about the many forms of work-related injury that can comprise the basis of a workers’ compensation claim.
What is a Work Related Injury?
The word “injury,” can refer to a wide range of health conditions not caused by illness. Some injuries are more common than others: a bone broken after a fall from a tree as a child; a car accident; a scar from playing sports. Injuries can also be mental, like the pain involved with ending a relationship or the passing of a loved one.
Workers’ compensation injuries are injuries or illnesses that occur to an employee while in the performance of their job duties. These injuries are said to be work-related and happen while at work or on the employer’s property. These injuries will result in medical treatment and may or not require time off of work. They can be a direct result of a spontaneous and traumatic event or, in the case of occupational diseases, develop as the result of ongoing exposure to a noxious or harmful element within a work environment such as loud sounds, toxic fumes, or repetitive physical motions.
Making a Workers’ Compensation Injury Report
If your supervisor declines to complete an injury report for any reason (including that your injury is “not that bad”), you will need to make your own written report to protect your rights. If you can, send your supervisor a text message and/or email detailing your injury. If you cannot do that, you can still make your own report. Write down on paper what caused your injury and what parts of your body hurt. Date it, sign it, and leave it on your supervisor’s desk. Using your cell phone or other device, take a picture of the note sitting on the desk.
Regardless of how your injury is reported, save any documentation of the process. In some cases, your employer’s insurance carrier will allege you did not report your injury in a timely manner and that proof could save your case.
How Workers’ Compensation Relates to Personal Injury
The NY Workers’ Compensation Law §2(7) defines “injury” and “personal injury” as only accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of employment and such disease or infection as may naturally and unavoidably result therefrom. The terms “injury” and “personal injury” shall not include an injury that is solely mental and is based on work-related stress if such mental injury is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion, or termination taken in good faith by the employer.
Over the last century, the law has added and subtracted concepts that complicate whether the Workers’ Compensation Board will say a person suffered an “injury.” If the Board determines a condition is not an “injury,” that Workers’ Compensation claim will be denied.
Common Types of Workers’ Compensation Injuries
Immediate, Traumatic Injuries
The simplest form of injury discussed in workers’ compensation law is the immediate, traumatic injury. A fall at work. A crushed hand or foot. Burns. Any kind of instantaneous mishap that causes a person’s body to be hurt. Usually, whether these accidents constitute an “injury” is relatively straightforward.
For immediate injuries, the most common question is not for serious injuries, but for small ones. Look around in the break room at work. There may be a poster telling employees to, “Report every injury, no matter how slight, to your supervisor at once.” Every injury at work? An employee burns their finger on coffee because they were distracted reading break room posters? A paper cut? Stubbed toes?
The purpose of that poster is not to protect employees. It is to protect employers. By sharing that message, employers can argue that an employee whose minor, unreported injury becomes serious down the road “should have known” that their injury needed to be treated and then reported. When in doubt, always report the injury. The law allows injured workers 30 days to report an injury at work in writing. Even in rare cases when no medical care is immediately needed, making a written report protects the employee’s right to file a workers’ compensation claim for two years after the date of injury.
Repetitive Motion Injuries
Some jobs can cause injury by their very nature. Workers who repeat the same strenuous motion hundreds or thousands of times per shift. People who work around loud noise. Holding an item or the body in a particular position to complete a task. Exposure to infectious disease or other conditions.
When a person develops a medical condition not from an instantaneous event, but from performing their usual job over time, workers’ compensation law deems that an occupational disease. Common occupational diseases are hearing loss, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other diseases of the body’s joints.
If you suspect you are developing an occupational disease, seek medical attention. It is extremely important to discuss specific details of your work with your doctor. If you can, bring along a written job description or your own notes about how the workday is spent. Discuss with your doctor the conditions that could have caused your disease. Think about numbers: the number of times per day you do a task; the amount of force you need to exert in pounds; the decibels of noise generated by machines in your workplace.
After a doctor diagnoses you with a work-related disease, or even simply suspects one, report this disease in writing to your employer at once. Most employers’ forms, as well as those of the Workers’ Compensation Board, are set up to report immediate injuries. Their questions might not make sense for occupational diseases. When did your injury occur? What were you doing at the time? Were there any witnesses? Although these questions might not “fit” with an occupational disease, try to answer as well as possible.
Mental or psychological injuries are common in the workplace. The American Institute of Stress found that 83% of all U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives.
Workers’ compensation law has not adapted to the modern realities of mental health. Establishing a claim for a mental injury in workers’ compensation is extremely difficult. The NY Legislature specifically excluded mental health conditions from the definition of an “injury” in §2(7) of the law. If a condition is “solely mental” and stems from a “lawful personnel decision” of the employer, it does not count as an “injury” in workers’ compensation.
This means that if your employer fires, demotes, transfers, or punishes you, and you suffer a decline in your mental health as a result, you cannot make a workers’ compensation claim. Similarly, if your supervisor, coworkers, or customers cause you to have stress or other mental illness by doing things that are not otherwise against the law, your workers’ compensation case will be denied, no matter how severe your condition becomes.
Despite this tough and unfair stance against mental health claims, there are instances in which mental illness can be an injury under workers’ compensation. If an employer makes unlawful decisions against you, there might be a claim. workers’ compensation claims can be based on stress or mental illness deriving from workplace sexual harassment, gender or racial discrimination, and other similar conditions.
If a person suffers stress considerably greater than what should be expected in their line of work, the resulting mental illness can be an injury. This is entirely defined by a person’s normal work experience. For example: an office assistant might be able to establish a workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder after a client has a heart attack in their waiting room; a hospital nurse most likely cannot. An auto mechanic might sustain a claim for anxiety if a customer brandishes a gun in their presence, a police officer likely would not.
Does Your Injury Warrant a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
Even just deciding whether a condition is an “injury” under workers’ compensation law can give rise to unexpected complications.
Your case will become complex—quickly—if you have an injury reported in an unusual way, if you are diagnosed with an occupational disease, or if you experience a mental illness from a work-related event or stressor.
If your work-related injury involves people who are not coworkers, for example a car accident where another driver is at fault, or if it is the result of unlawful harassment, discrimination, or employment conditions, you may have additional legal rights of which you are unaware.
If your employer or their insurance carrier denies the claim, your treatment, or out-of-work payments, the Workers’ Compensation Board will schedule hearings and litigation.
In all of these situations, we recommend consulting with an attorney as soon as possible. Workplace injuries are defined in many ways; with our team of experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Lewis & Lewis in your corner, a workplace injury doesn’t have to define you.