When you are injured on the job, you can find yourself bringing home more than a paycheck. Aches and pains caused by a workplace injury can be more serious than you first realize. Certain injuries, like back injuries, worsen bit by bit if they go unattended. Even if you believe a workplace injury is minor, take these five steps immediately to protect yourself.
Report the Injury
Tell your boss or someone in authority what happened. Telling a co-worker that you slipped on the loading dock and now your back hurts isn’t enough. Go to someone in charge. Although labor law varies from state to state, you generally have a period of time to report an injury. Sooner is always better, though, and immediately is best.
Document Everything You Can
If your boss or supervisor has an injury report or accident report form, fill it out. If not, write down what happened on a piece of plain paper. Make it factual. Cover the essentials – who, what, when, where and how. If you don’t write well, ask someone to help you. If possible and appropriate, take pictures of your injury, and of the place where your accident took place. Don’t act as if you were on CSI, but do what you need to.
See a Doctor
Even if you think your injury is “nothing”, have it checked out immediately. If your workplace has a doctor, see him or her. If not, ask about seeing a workers’ compensation doctor or insurance doctor. Seeking medical help after you have been hurt on the job is important.
If your employer sends you to a doctor you don’t like, cooperate anyway. Maintain good relations. Assume the doctor is acting in good faith. Answer all questions truthfully. Be courteous. Go to all your appointments. Do what your doctor recommends. Take notes at your appointments to keep track of your treatment. Although we think we will remember things, details fade quickly. If your injury turns out to be serious, you will be happy you wrote everything down.
See a Second Doctor
If your employer cannot or will not send you to a doctor and you can afford to see one on your own, do so. Have your injury evaluated and treated. If your employer has sent you to a doctor you believe is dismissing you or ignoring a real injury, get a second opinion. Once again, document everything.
Contact a Lawyer
Workers’ compensation laws can be tricky, and vary from state to state. Never hesitate to get a lawyer’s opinion if you believe your employer is treating you unfairly after a work accident. Many lawyers will explain your rights to you for free if you have been hurt on the job, and help you decide what to do next.
Above all, if you are hurt on the job, take steps to protect yourself promptly and honestly. Most employers will act in good faith, if you give them a chance.