Workers' Comp Basics FAQs


Q: What is workers' compensation insurance?

  • Workers compensation is an alternate way for employees to recover for work-related injuries, rather than suing their employers. States started passing workers' comp laws about 100 years ago. It's an exclusive remedy, meaning if you're hurt at work, you usually can't file a lawsuit against your employer. It's an exchange of rights and benefits. The workers' comp system provides employees with the security of knowing they can recover for work-related injuries without the complexity and uncertainty of a lawsuit. Employers can't assert many legal defenses against your claim, but there are limits on what must be paid on a claim.


Q: What's the origin of the workers' compensation system?

  • States and the federal government passed workers' compensation laws to provide workers with certainty they'd receive payment for medical treatment and lost wages if they were injured at work. Before workers' comp, workers had to sue their employers, and they weren't assured of receiving any payment for on-the-job injuries.


Q: Why can't I choose to file a lawsuit against my employer instead of making a workers' comp claim?

  • The workers' comp system stands for compromise. Both sides give and take. While you can't file a lawsuit against your employer, you do know if your injury is work-related, you can recover on your claim. Your employer, on the other hand, can't raise certain legal defenses that might defeat your claim in a lawsuit. Also, while the employer has to pay your claim, it isn't exposed to uncertain damages awards possible in a lawsuit.


Q: Is every employer required to carry workers' compensation insurance?

  • Almost all businesses must carry workers' comp insurance, even with as few as one employee. There are some exceptions, such as for some farming businesses, or if you're the only employee of your business. State law varies on coverage requirements.


Q: Is every worker covered by workers' compensation?

  • Most state laws require coverage for almost all employees. Family members of business owners usually aren't excluded from required coverage. Coverage may not be required for corporate officers, and some farm workers.


Q: Should I expect my employer to tell me about workers' comp coverage when I'm hired?

  • Generally, employers don't have to tell you the specifics about coverage. Most state laws do require employers to post notices about workers' comp in easy-to-access areas, such as your break room or by your time clock. Look for the notice - it also serves to confirm to employees their employer does have required coverage. You state may offer an online service to look up information on your employer's coverage.


Q: Is workers' comp required for people who are self-employed?

  • Usually not. While your state's law might not require workers' comp, it can be a good idea to buy coverage. Just because the law doesn't force you to have workers' comp coverage doesn't mean you won't be injured while working. If you're hurt, your workers' comp insurance can really pay off, especially for a common accident such as a slip and fall, which can happen to anyone.


Q: If others besides my employer are involved in an accident, can I file a separate lawsuit?

  • Yes. If there's a third party, you can file a lawsuit to recover damages for your injuries. A good example is a car or auto accident involving an employer's vehicle and another vehicle.


Q: Can employers self-insure?

  • A: Yes; check out your state's requirements. You may have to comply with certain rules or post a bond to prove your business has the proper coverage.


Q: Do employers have to provide workers' comp coverage for independent contractors?

  • A: Usually not, because independent contractors aren't employees. However, whether you're an employer or working for or with a business, be sure you're clear on the status of who is an employee under your state's laws. Misclassifying employees and independent contractors could bring fines and risks you don't want to deal with.


Q: What role does an employer have in deciding whether a claim is paid?

  • The workers' comp insurer generally decides claim issues. An employer may dispute a claim, for example, if it believes an injury isn't related to work. Policy terms may require the insurance company to consult the employer regarding settlement offers.


Q: What should I do if I think my employer doesn't have workers' comp insurance, and how would I recover for my injuries?

  • A: Contact your state's industrial or workers' comp commission. You can probably make an anonymous report about your employer's lack of coverage. Employers can face fines and other consequences for not carrying workers' comp coverage. States typically have funds to cover such claims, or you may be able to sue directly.


Q: What's the difference between long-term disability and workers' comp insurance?

  • Workers' comp provides coverage for work-related accidents and injuries. Long-term disability insurance helps replace your income when you've suffered an illness or injury not related to work. Your employer must provide workers' comp insurance. Long-term disability insurance is coverage you buy privately, or you may have it as a benefit from work, like your health insurance.


Q: What's the difference between short-term disability insurance and workers' comp coverage?

  • Like long-term disability insurance, short-term disability insurance helps replace income after you've suffered an illness or injury not related to work. You can buy this insurance on your own, or it may be offered as part of your benefit package at work.


Q: Are employees protected if a workers' comp insurance carrier goes out of business or files for bankruptcy?

  • Yes. Most states have a guaranty fund to cover claims when an insurer is insolvent. Contact your state's industrial commission or insurance regulation department for specifics in your state.



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