Injured workers call me all the time asking me what they need to do to make sure they protect their legal rights. If you are hurt on the job, whether it is due to an acute traumatic injury (like cutting yourself on a saw), cumulative-trauma injury (like carpal-tunnel syndrome) or some other job-related injury, there are several basic things you should do. If you do not do any of the things on the list below, you may lose your rights under Iowa’s workers’ compensation law.
Although there may be rare exceptions to this list, following it will leave you reasonably secure that your rights are protected:
- Report the injury. By “injury,” I mean almost any condition including but not limited to (a) an acute traumatic injury, (b) a cumulative-trauma injury, or (c) a disease or a hearing loss. You should report the injury to your supervisor or company nurse (for clarity we’ll just call these people your Supervisor from here on out), making clear your injury was caused by work. Under Iowa law, you need to make the report within 90 days of the date of your injury.
- Make sure your Supervisor prepares a company accident report. If your Supervisor won’t prepare the report, then you should write a letter stating the facts of your injury and give a copy of the letter to the Supervisor. Keep a record of when you gave the letter to your Supervior. If you can get him/her to sign a receipt for having received it, that’s even better.
- Get a copy of the accident report and keep it in a safe place. If you prepare a letter, keep a copy of it.
- If you are part of a collective bargaining unit you should (a) join the union if you are not already a member and (b) tell your steward that you were injured and that you reported your injury to your Supervisor.
- Keep notes of all significant contacts you have with anyone (including but not limited to supervisors, insurance company representatives and doctors) concerning your work injury.
- Under Iowa law you must and should get medical care through the doctor selected by your employer (we’ll call this person the Company Doctor). Don’t get frustrated if you are denied care. Keep demanding proper care through the Company Doctor. If you go to your own doctor, you can make it look like you believe your injury was not caused by work. Also, under Iowa law your employer may not be required to pay for care you get from a doctor you choose.
- Tell the Company Doctor clearly and in great detail how your work caused your injury. If you do not think that the Company Doctor is caring for you properly or has not taken careful notes on how your work caused your injury, then give the doctor a written statement of how your work caused you injury and keep a copy of that statement.
- Follow all medical directions. If you don’t, your employer may argue that you chose not to get proper care and purposely stayed sick so you did not have to go back to work.
- If the doctor recommends you not do certain things at work, get the doctor to write that down and get at least 2 copies, one for the Supervisor and one for you to carry at work.
- Make sure that the doctor sends all bills to your employer for payment.
- If your employer and/or insurance company denies your medical care or the Company Doctor does not provide effective care, you have a right to seek effective medical care. You do this by first demanding the employer and/or insurance company provide effective care to you. If you are denied, you then need to file an “Alternate Care Petition” seeking an order from the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that you be provided the effective care. You can get a copy of the Petition at: http://www.iowaworkforce.org/wc/forms/14-0011altcarefillable.pdf. You should consult a lawyer if you are denied proper and effective medical care for a work injury.
- If you miss work because of a work injury, your employer may have a right to a 3-day “waiting period” before starting to pay you money benefits. If your employer does not start to pay you after 3 days have passed, you should demand payment. If you are denied payment of money benefits for time missed from work because of a work injury you should consult a lawyer. You have a right to be paid money benefits in a timely manner – which means on the same day each week. If that does not happen, you may have a right to a “penalty” benefit payment equaling up to 150% of the money benefits owed and not timely paid.