“Please fill out this form,” the emergency room woman said, giving me an odd look. I had just explained to her that I was hit in the face with a reindeer antler while I was at my job taking care of captive wildlife, and I now had a gaping wound between my lip and my nose. Of course, it didn’t help that it was two weeks before Christmas, and I lived just down the road from North Pole — i.e. Alaska.
I sat down to fill out the form as Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer started playing over the loudspeakers. The emergency room doctors took one horrified look at me before immediately referring me to a plastic surgeon. Apparently, my lip was nearly cut in half, and they needed a specialist to fix it so that I wouldn’t look like Frankenstein’s monster.
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How much did all of this cost, you might ask? A big, fat $0 — which was especially good because I was a broke student at the time.
Why was it free? Because I was injured on the job, so I was covered under workers' compensation (often just shortened to “workers' comp”). If I had to pay for it myself, I would have probably gone bankrupt.
What is Workers' Comp?
Workers' comp is simply insurance that most employers are required to take out to cover you in case you’re injured on the job. Because your employer pays for it, this protection comes at no cost to you. You should never have to worry about copayments, deductibles, or any of those other shenanigans.
How Does Workers' Comp Work?
Workers' comp is designed to cover a wide range of treatments, from rogue reindeer to slipping on ice to repetitive injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s also used to pay you temporary disability benefits in case you can’t return to work immediately, and even give you permanent disability insurance if you find yourself unable to work at all.
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Workers' comp requirements vary by state, so the exact rules depend on where you live. You can check out the rules for your state on the Department of Labor website.
It’s also worth noting that if you are injured on the job, you may want to consult with an attorney who can help you understand your legal rights — especially if it’s a costly injury or you’ll be temporarily or permanently disabled. We’re just providing general information here, so refer to an attorney for the final say in any workers' comp matters.
What to Do When You're Injured on the Job
If it’s a serious injury, get help immediately. Don’t worry about rules and regulations — just go to the nearest emergency center. Tell them you’re covered under workers' comp and give them the name of your employer. Don’t worry about paying for it — they’ll get their money one way or another (trust me).
Next, you’ll need to file an injury report with your employer as soon as possible after receiving treatment. If it’s a minor injury, you can go ahead and start the process immediately. Your employer should have a form for you to fill out to document the injury. This is important for the claims process.
You can usually pick which doctor you want to work with from this point on (if you need subsequent treatment or therapy, for example). But again, check your rights under your state’s program. Then all you need to worry about is getting better.
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As for me, I got to see the best plastic surgeon in town to get my lip fixed. I never even saw a bill, and I got several calls from my HR rep asking me if there was anything they could do to help. Within a week, I was back at work herding reindeer and caribou. Now all I have is this cool (but barely visible) scar, and an awesome story to tell!