Today’s post comes from guest author Ryan Benharris from Deborah G. Kohl Law Offices. We believe that Ryan’s valuable advice for Massachusetts correctional officers also applies to us in Iowa.
Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl, PC proudly represents Massachusetts’ hardworking Correctional Officers.
Workplace injuries are common in every profession. In Massachusetts, Correctional Officers are more likely to sustain an injury on the job than any other worker in the state. Here are ten helpful tips to making sure that your rights are protected if you are injured on the job:
1.) Report your injury to a supervisor immediately – The most common defense to a work related injury is that, “It never happened.” This defense can almost completely be avoided if you tell someone right away. This is obvious in situations of an inmate assault or a slip-and-fall where you sustain a traumatic injury. It is also equally as important in a case where you feel pain but you continue working. You should report this as soon as possible. There is a four (4) year statute of limitations on when you can bring a workers’ compensation case in Massachusetts. The last thing you want is for someone to tell you that you brought your claim too late.
2.) Fill out all of the appropriate documentation – Make sure you fill out an appropriate IA Packet and get it to the proper office. If you fail to do this you will not get paid.
3.) DO NOT PUT OFF SEEKING MEDICAL TREATMENT! – Your health is the most important thing there is. Do not risk your health for the sake of your job. Seek medical treatment immediately. You have the right to see any doctor you choose. Follow your doctor’s recommendation as it is written. You do not have to return to work if your doctor says it is unsafe to do so; regardless of any letters you receive from your employer telling you that you must return. If your condition does improve, there is likely temporary modified work available for you. If you have questions about whether you qualify for this, ask someone!
4.) Be Open and Honest With Your Doctor – Give the doctor all of the information he or she needs to write the proper medical documentation that will make sure that you get all of your benefits. Tell the doctor HOW you hurt yourself. Tell the doctor WHERE you hurt yourself. Tell the doctor if you had any prior injuries to the same body part and if this injury has made those prior injuries worse. Do not hide anything from the doctor. That can only hurt your case.
5.) Know what they owe you – If you are unable to work, workers’ compensation must pay you 60% of your average weekly wage, tax free. They also must pay for any and all medical expenses to you. This includes any out of pocket co-pays for prescriptions and doctors’ visits. They also must pay you mileage for your trips to and from the doctor’s office. Also, if you have a part-time job that you are also unable to do, workers’ compensation must pay you for those lost wages as well (as long as you work for an employer who also has workers’ compensation insurance). If you are getting less than this, you are not getting what you are owed.
6.) Being paid your earned sick and vacation time is not the same thing as being paid workers’ comp – You are not supposed to lose any of your earned sick and vacation time as a result of your workplace injury. If you they are paying you from your earned time and not specifically from workers’ comp, something is wrong. The sick that is taken from you can be reimbursed if workers’ compensation is found responsible to pay you.
7.) Do not mistake “immediate payment” for “admission of guilt.”– Massachusetts has a “Six Month Payment Without Prejudice Period.” This allows for Workers’ Compensation to pay you for six months without actually accepting any liability on your injury. One of the benefits the insurer gets of this law is that they can stop paying you for any reason they deem fit at any time. They only need to give you seven (7) days written notice. Once they terminate your benefits, you need to file a claim with the Department of Industrial Accidents to get them back (calling your claims adjuster and insisting that “this must be a mistake,” is useless. It will not help you). This is a lengthy, difficult process that you would strongly benefit from representation by an attorney during. Your Employer will certainly be represented by an attorney at this time. Don’t allow yourself to have the cards stacked against you even before you begin. You don’t want to be fighting against another lawyer without a lawyer. Insurance companies will use anything they can against you to try to refrain from paying your benefits. If they do terminate your payments, you may use your accrued sick and vacation time to continue getting paid until you can get back on workers’ compensation. Sick time is reimbursable. Vacation time is not.
8.) If you are out on workers’ compensation, they are following you! – Expect to see a private investigator with a camera stationed outside your home. This is not paranoia. It is the truth. It is common practice for workers’ compensation to hire someone to take pictures and video of you. They hope to catch you mowing your lawn, taking out your trash, jogging, lifting bags of groceries, working a side-job. Expect to be followed by a private investigator. Behave accordingly.
9.) Keep a good line of communication open between yourself and your Union – Your Union is there to help you. They are hardworking, diligent and are on your side. They know your Collective Bargaining Agreement better than anyone. If you have any questions about whether you are receiving all of your benefits possible, contact them immediately.
10.) Hire an attorney early – It does not cost you one penny to retain an attorney to represent you in your workers’ compensation case. The sooner you get to an attorney, the sooner they will be able to tell you if you are receiving everything you are supposed to get. Remember that the Workers Compensation Division is an insurance agency. It will do everything in its legal power to ensure that it only has to pay you when the law absolutely calls for it. Your case will be closely monitored by their attorneys almost immediately after you report your injury. It makes sense to have an attorney working for you equally as quickly.