Despite the fact that California’s workers’ compensation program is meant to benefit Los Angeles workers and be accessible by them, many workers in Los Angeles nevertheless have questions and concerns about the workers’ compensation program in California. Sometimes these questions and concerns remain unvoiced, which only fuels a worker’s confusion about and possible distrust of the workers’ compensation system.
While it is impossible to anticipate every circumstance that may arise involving a California worker and the workers’ compensation system, there are a number of questions that frequently arise in workers’ compensation cases. These include:
Am I Covered by the Workers’ Compensation System?
California’s workers’ compensation system is meant to be very broad and encompass a great number of workers. To accomplish this, the workers’ compensation benefit system is made available to “employees” – a term that can have a very broad meaning. Chances are good that you are an “employee” for purposes of the workers’ compensation system so long as you are not an independent contractor.
What is the Difference Between an Independent Contractor and an Employee?
Independent contractors are not covered under the workers’ compensation laws of California: therefore, an independent contractor will not receive any workers’ compensation benefits from an employer and the employer is under no obligation to carry workers’ compensation insurance for the independent contractor. It is not always easy to determine whether a person is an independent contractor or an employee. Courts called upon to resolve such a question would look at a variety of factors, including how much control the employer is able to exercise over the manner in which the worker completes his or her tasks.
How Soon Will I Begin Receiving Benefits?
As soon as you have been injured, you should immediately notify your supervisor and follow this up with a DWC-1 form. This form “officially” gives notice to your employer that you were injured in a workplace accident. Your employer should give notice to the workers’ compensation insurer within five days. Within fourteen days of being notified of a claim, the workers’ compensation insurer should be in touch with you to let you know about the status of your case and when you can begin receiving benefits. It can take several weeks before you begin receiving compensation benefits, assuming there is no dispute or challenge to your claim.
How are My Benefits Calculated?
The answer to this question depends on what benefits are being referenced. Some benefits – like the death benefit – are fixed and depend only on the number of total and/or partial dependents the deceased worker had at the time of his or her death and whether the fatal accident occurred before or after 2013. The burial allowance is a fixed amount that is not dependent on any outside factor. Wages are calculated using the worker’s average weekly wage from just before the crash and then multiplying this by a set percentage.
Can I Go to My Own Doctor for Treatment?
An injured worker may feel more comfortable going to his or her own doctor for treatment, but unless there is a special agreement with your employer and/or the workers’ compensation insurer, you will be seen by a doctor chosen by the insurer (assuming it is not a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency care). You are free to visit your own doctor as often as you like after being injured, but the insurer may choose to pay only for the visits and treatment you receive from its doctor(s).
When Can I Return to Work?
Returning to work is not as simple as showing up for work one day. You must maintain good communication with your doctors and with your employer. The doctor may release you after a period of time to return to work with restrictions. It is important that you follow these restrictions as failing to do so can result in more serious (and non-covered) injuries to yourself. Returning to work without doctor’s permission or working in excess of your restriction may lead the workers’ compensation insurer to believe you are not as injured as you claim and have your benefits reduced or eliminated altogether. For this reason, be sure to keep in touch with your treating doctor and your employer about when you intend to return to work. If your doctor does not support your decision, it may be best to heed his or her advice and stay home.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is best able to answer your questions quickly and accurately. Avoid seeking answers from non-legal sources as workers’ compensation laws can change over time. Do not let yourself have questions about the workers’ compensation process without seeking the answers to those questions: the sooner you have your questions answered the sooner you can take action to obtain the benefits to which you may be entitled.