An employee is required to notify his or her employer within 120 days of sustaining an injury at work. This notification – “notice” is the legal term — may be provided verbally or in writing. If timely notice is not provided, the claim is forever barred, regardless of the seriousness of the injury.
It seems like common sense that if you’re hurt at work, you’re going to report it promptly. If you slip on a wet floor at work and twist your knee or strain your neck while operating a machine, why wouldn’t you tell your boss soon after. For a variety of reasons, some people wait to report their injuries – and as a result suffer dire consequences.
Some examples will illustrate the importance of not waiting to report a work injury. John was employed by a manufacturing company in the shipping department; he started his job in January. He was required to lift heavy boxes throughout the day. On March 1, he experienced pain to his low back while lifting a box. Because he was a fairly new employee, he did not want to cause waves, so he declined to mention the injury to his supervisor and tried to shake it off. He continued to work, but it became more and more difficult for him to lift the heavy boxes. John did not have health insurance and he did not want to incur the expense of a doctor’s visit, so he opted to use a heating pad on his back and take over-the-counter medication.
John’s back pain impeded his production, and in May, and then again in June, he received warnings from his supervisor concerning his performance. Finally, on July 15, he was terminated. Soon after, his wife obtained a job which provided health insurance for her family, so John saw an orthopedic surgeon for his back pain. He was referred for an MRI, which showed a herniated disc, and the surgeon recommended surgery.
John consulted with a workers’ compensation lawyer with regard to filing a claim for his March 1 injury. After reviewing the facts, the lawyer had no choice but to give John the bad news: because he did not notify his employer of his injury by June 29 – 120 days from his date of injury – he could not pursue a workers’ compensation claim although he injured himself at work and requires surgery.
There are other reasons why prompt notification of a work injury is critical. Let’s suppose that John was terminated on May 15 instead of July 15. At that point, the 120-day notice period still had not expired. Despite John’s termination, it would not be too late for him to notify his employer of his March 1 injury. If he hired a lawyer to file a claim on his behalf, that would also satisfy the notice requirement. Under this scenario, the claim would not be barred for failure to provide timely notice. However, it still may be difficult for John to prevail. When a person alleges sustaining a work injury, does not report it or seek medical treatment for the injury, and then is terminated, the workers’ compensation judge hearing the case may be skeptical and suspect that the person is angry towards their employer about being fired and is retaliating by filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Things would have gone much more smoothly for John if he had simply told his supervisor that he injured himself the day it occurred or soon after. Assuming proper procedure was followed, the supervisor would have asked John to complete an incident report, documenting the injury, and provided him with a list of medical providers – called the employer’s “panel” – with whom he could treat for his injury at the employer’s expense for 90 days. (Employers are supposed to post a list of their panel providers at the workplace, but many do not.) If John had taken that step and received medical treatment, the doctor may have restricted him to light-duty work and prescribed medication and physical therapy to alleviate his pain and help him recover from his injury. If the employer provided John with a light-duty position, he could have continued to work; if it did not, John would have been entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
So if you hurt yourself at work, remember this: even if you just started your job, even if you think the injury is minor, and even if you continue to work, protect your rights by telling your supervisor about your injury right away.
At Pearson Koutcher Law, our Philadelphia Workers Compensation attorney have extensive experience representing client injured in all types of workplace accidents and as a result of various on-the job hazardous conditions. We understand the complexities of medical diagnoses and work hand –in-hand with your medical care provider to properly address your needs and get you the benefits you deserve under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Call us today at 215-627-0700 to set up an appointment with one of our knowledgeable lawyers to discuss your rights under your Act.