What Is Workers’ Compensation? Lessons I Learned From a Lizard
Most large companies are careful to offer workers’ comp to employees, but smaller outfits may not be so forthcoming.
Over the course of a few days, Walmart transformed. Beach towels and boogie boards gave way to pencils, folders, and backpacks. Overnight, I got reassigned from the garden section to grocery. The change proved disastrous — or at least comical.
A mere 10 minutes into my shift, I reached under some shelving to grab a small piece of trash. All at once, a sharp pain ran through my hand, and the tip of my finger became numb. “Owww!” I yelped. Whipping my head around, I caught sight of the culprit. A black and yellow lizard darted out of the risers.
Jerome, my shift manager, screamed like a little girl. He grabbed boxes and tried to trap the lizard. In a panic, I reached down for the lizard and picked it up with my bare hands. It writhed in my hands, and I threw it in the nearest trash can.
“That lizard tried to eat you,” Jerome said.
“It’s really no big deal,” I replied, though my heart was beating out of my chest. The lizard was no more than eight inches long if you excluded its tail.
Jerome sent me to our HR representative to fill out an initial report of injury. “Won’t that end the 375-days-without-injury streak?” I asked.
“I would rather forgo some ice cream than have you die from lizard poison,” he said. So I walked to the HR office. Over the intercom, I heard Jerome say, “We have a lizard situation in the trash can on aisle 24.”
In the office, the HR representative had me fill out the report. She asked me if I needed to visit urgent care. I told her that I wasn’t too worried. She went on to explain my right to workers’ compensation insurance (or workers’ comp).
“I’m serious,” she said. “If you need medical attention, Walmart will pay. That’s your right, you know.”
I assured her that I was fine, and I went back to work. Still, I felt thankful that my employer took the time to explain my rights.
What Is Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ comp is a form of insurance that covers employees in case of on-the-job injuries. Most employers are required to buy workers’ compensation insurance for you. The major exceptions include employers with very few workers, as well as farm owners. Workers’ comp insurance covers medical care for injuries or illnesses caused by your job.
How Does Workers’ Compensation Work?
Workers’ comp will replace any income you lose if you have to take time off work because of a job-related injury. Replacement income varies by state, but it’s generally about 60 percent of your gross wages.
Workers’ compensation covers retraining costs and compensation for permanent injuries. It even provides a death benefit if you die on the job. It isn’t health insurance. Nor is it disability or life insurance. Workers’ comp covers you only if your job causes your injury.
Your employer is responsible for informing you that you’re covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
Large companies train managers on how to handle potential claims. This ensures that employees get the medical coverage that they need. Workers’ comp also covers the corporation’s butt. Employees who receive workers’ comp income forgo the right to sue their employer for reckless causes of injury.
Why Workers’ Comp Is Important
I’m not the type who wants to forgo any rights, but workers’ comp insurance seems to favor employees. I certainly prefer the push for workers’ comp after the treatment that I got at my first job.
As a high school junior and senior, I worked at a small Italian restaurant. The restaurant was owned by the most stereotypically Italian grandparents you could think of. Giuseppe and Maria bickered constantly in the kitchen, but they made the most delicious . . . well, everything. Only a dozen people worked at the restaurant, and we all pretended to be Italian.
One night, a couple came in just minutes before closing. I seated them and took their order right away. The cook rushed through their order and had their food ready in just seven minutes. I grabbed the plates, but I noticed that the marinara sauce was missing. I told the cook to sauce the plate. He whipped around with a ladle full of steaming marinara and poured it all over the food and my arm. Tomatoes and olive oil seared my skin.
Holding in a scream of pain, I set down the plates and ran my arm under cold water. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” the cook said over and over.
Meanwhile, our manager cleaned the plates and took them out to the waiting customers. She helped me make an ice bag and sent me home with some burn cream. She didn’t suggest a trip to urgent care, and she didn’t fill out a form to document the incident.
I had the right to medical attention, but my manager didn’t mention it. To be honest, I don’t think my manager or I knew about workers’ compensation insurance. Her job was to run the restaurant, not to deal with workers’ comp.
What to Do If You’re Injured on the Job
Knowing what I know now, in a similar situation, I would ask my manager to type up and sign an incident report so that, if I sought medical attention, the company would compensate me for it later.
Employees of small businesses have most of the same rights as larger employers. However, small employers likely aren’t as familiar with compliance. What does that mean for you? Make your own documentation. That way, you can get the compensation that’s due to you.
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