Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain or illness, meaning it really never heals or goes away, but rather continues for years or even a life time. When it comes to workers’ compensation (workers’ “comp”), employees who suffer from chronic pain or chronic disease may be entitled to benefits.

Some Basics

Each state has its own workers’ comp laws, and they usually vary from state to state. But in general, these laws are designed to help employees who have work-related injuries or medical conditions. Workers comp “benefits” include money payments and access to medical care and treatment. The goal is to get injured workers back into the work force as quickly as possible.

A main key to workers’ comp is that it’s available only for work-related injuries. There are all sorts of exceptions and special circumstances, but as a general rule, you have to be injured while doing your job in order to qualify for benefits.


For purposes of workers’ comp, the term “injury” includes many things, from broken bones to invisible injuries like:

  • Pinched nerves and nerve damage
  • Tingling sensations in the arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Occupational diseases, like asbestosis and mesothelioma, caused by exposure to toxic chemicals and materials at work
  • Repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Most if not all of these and other invisible injuries are chronic, and so is the pain and discomfort that usually comes with the injury or disease. Chronic pain from a work-related injury is generally covered by workers’ comp the same as the injury itself.

    Again, the chronic condition needs to be work-related. A worker who develops lung cancer, diabetes, arthritis, or any other invisible chronic condition must show the condition is somehow connected to work before she can get workers’ comp benefits.

    There’s one exception, however. If a worker’s pre-existing condition is aggravated or gets worse faster because of her job, worker’s comp may be available. For example:

    • A worker with heart disease who suffers a heart attack at work while trying to lift something heavy
    • An employee with a history of back pain caused by a car accident unrelated to work who injuries his back rearranging his office furniture
    • A worker who suddenly develops migraines or suffers from depression because she was given additional duties at work

    What You Should Do

    There are number things you should do if you think you’ve suffered a work-related chronic injury:

    • Seek medical attention. Taking care of yourself is first and foremost
    • As soon as possible, report the injury to your employer. Tell your boss, supervisor, or human resources department
    • File a worker’s comp claim. Your employer can give you the necessary forms. If you have any questions about the forms, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible
    • File your claim as a soon as possible. Filing early means you’ll get benefits faster and when you need them most. Also, there’s a time limit on your claim, called a statute of limitations. They vary by state, but generally you have one year from the date of the injury. If it’s an occupational disease, you may have two years from the date you discover the disease
    • Consider hiring an attorney early in the process. Employers and their insurance carriers often fight workers’ comp claims. Also, proving you have a covered chronic illness or disease can get complicated. An experienced attorney can make the process easier for you and help make sure you get all the benefits you’re entitled to

    Living with pain or illness everyday can make anyone’s life miserable. If your chronic condition is work-related, take advantage of the workers’ comp laws in your state and get some relief.

    Questions for Your Attorney

    • I hurt my back last year at my old job and I just re-injured it at my new job. Is the second injury covered by worker’s comp? Do I have top contact my old employer?
    • Can I fire an employee who misses a lot of work because of an injury covered by workers’ comp?
    • Does my employer have to continue paying my health care benefits and insurance while I’m off work and receiving workers’ comp benefits?