What if my employer doesn't have workers' compensation insurance?

Illinois law requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. It’s estimated that more than 90% of Illinois employees are covered. When a worker gets hurt on the job, the employer’s insurance company pays out benefits to that worker.

The law specifically says that employers must insure all employees who work in Illinois, as well as those who are hired in Illinois or injured here. Employers who work for themselves and have no employees do not need to get workers’ compensation insurance, but if they have just one employee, even if it’s a part-time employee, the law applies and they must carry insurance. Employees are covered by Illinois workers’ compensation law the minute they get hired. There is no waiting period.

Employees generally aren’t allowed to sue their employers for negligence after a work injury, even if it was the employer’s fault. That’s just the way the law works. It’s a trade-off. Employers are protected from lawsuits and employees are given benefits without having to prove fault or go through the litigation process. However, if an employer knowingly fails to carry insurance for its employees, then an injured employee may be able to sue their employer in court.

You can search online to see if your employer has coverage, although your employer is supposed to post this information in a place where employees can easily see it. Employers who break the law and fail to get insurance can be fined up to $500 per day. Employees who report employers for non-compliance are allowed to remain anonymous. 

If your employer tells you that you can’t file a claim because they don’t have insurance, don’t take that as the final answer. Find out if they really do have insurance. Similarly, if your employer tells you that you don’t qualify for workers’ compensation, look into it for yourself. We talk to people whose employers seem to do anything they can to keep them from filing a claim. They do this to save money but it can really hurt your health and your ability to continue to work and be financially independent. Don’t get intimidated.

There are some rare exceptions, but the general rule is that employers have to carry insurance coverage for their Illinois employees. If you suffer an injury, the benefits you’re entitled to under Illinois law can make a big difference. Not only can you get coverage of 100% of your medical expenses, including doctor visits, tests, prescriptions, and even surgery, but you can collect 2/3 of your average weekly wage if you can’t work because of your injury. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Can I get workers' compensation for my injury?

Most people who suffer a job injury don’t know much about workers’ compensation, which makes sense. It’s not something you’d look into unless and until you have a need for it. So one of the main questions we get about Illinois work injury law is “Am I covered?”

This area of law is very fact specific, so we don’t usually have a good answer until we talk to the person and ask them questions about what happened, what their job entails, where they work, etc. However, if you’re looking for the basics, here is what matters:

How your injury relates to your job. This is a huge question with many relevant factors. In general, however, your injury has to be caused by your job. If you fall off a ladder while changing a light bulb in the retail store where you work, then that is work related. Even if you are a cashier, you were doing something for your employer. If you have a heart attack while doing your job as a cashier, then that probably isn’t work related. A heart attack while the retail store is being robbed would be another story. Again, there are so many possible scenarios.

Whether you are an employee. In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation in Illinois, you have to be an employee. Part-time and brand-new employees should be covered. Volunteers and independent contractors are not included – just make sure you really are an independent contractor. Employers sometimes mislabel their employees.

The date of your injury. There are deadlines for filing a claim and notifying your employer. If you miss these deadlines, it could hurt your claim or possibly end it altogether. The law in Illinois requires you to notify your employer of a work injury within 45 days. The deadline for filing a claim is longer, although you shouldn’t delay. You have three years from the date of injury or two years from the last payment of benefits (if you received any), whichever is later.

Your doctor’s opinion. If you haven’t yet seen a doctor, it’s important that you do so. The medical opinion of a reputable doctor is extremely important in a workers’ compensation claim. If the insurance company has to pay you because you can’t work, they’re going to make sure it’s true that you can’t work. They’ll be looking for a credible opinion.

Whether you call us or talk to another attorney, you’ll likely get asked more specific questions. If you’re new to this area of law, the main things to do are see a doctor and notify your employer. Skipping these steps, or putting them off, can hurt your claim. Then, you can look into what you need to do to get medical benefits and temporary total disability payments if they haven’t already started.

Nursing home employees face unique risks on the job

We get a good number of calls from Illinois nursing home employees who have suffered a work accident or injury. It makes sense, considering the physical nature of the job. In fact, nursing home employees are often considered high risk for work injuries.

For example, nursing home employees are at risk for slip and fall accidents, as floors aren’t always kept clear of water and other substances. And workers are often in a hurry due to the demands of residents and patients. The workers are moving equipment and most significantly, they are lifting and moving residents. On top of all of this, their work is unpredictable and an agitated patient can turn a routine task into something dangerous. Even the exposure to illness is greater than it is for most other types of employees.

So it’s not a surprise that we hear from nursing home employees who are wondering whether they have a workers’ compensation claim. And in fact, many of them do. This means that they get their medical care paid for, and if they can’t work, they can get temporary total disability payments, which should cover 2/3 of their lost wages.

In order for an injury to be covered, it has to “arise out of and in the course of” your employment, according to Illinois workers’ compensation law. This essentially means that it has to be caused by your job. It’s impossible to specifically define what that means because each situation is different and the particular facts matter – where you were, what you were doing, etc.

Some people ask whether it matters if you had an existing injury or condition. Usually, it does not matter and you should still be covered if your job aggravated or accelerated your existing condition. These cases might be contested, meaning that the insurance company is denying your claim and saying your injury was not work related, but a good attorney will be able to tell you whether you still have a shot. Many times the insurance company is just trying to get out of paying.

Nursing home employees also are susceptible to repetitive stress or repetitive trauma injuries. These are injuries that occur over time from using a part of your body in the same way over and over again. For example, lifting heavy objects day after day can eventually cause an injury, as can repeated bending, twisting, or reaching. These injuries usually aren’t sudden. Again, this might make your case a little more complicated, since the insurance company might see a opportunity to deny your claim, but if you have a good doctor and an experienced attorney, you should be able to prove your work injury.

Before worrying about whether you have a claim for benefits, get the medical attention that you need. Put your health first. It’s best for you and for your claim if you see a doctor when necessary. Then, you can notify your employer, file a claim and hopefully starting getting your benefits.

Independent contractors and work injuries in Illinois

Unfortunately, not all workers are considered employees under Illinois workers’ compensation law. This matters because only employees get benefits, which include payment of medical expenses and lost pay.

Independent contractors are not employees under this law and not entitled to coverage if injured on the job. It can be frustrating because many employers treat their employees and independent contractors the same. What’s worse is that some employers label their employees as “independent contractors” because it’s in their own best interest. For one, if that worker gets hurt, the employer doesn’t have to pay workers’ compensation. 

The law in Illinois addresses this situation by creating its own definitions of employee and independent contractor. Ultimately, it’s not up to your employer to pick and choose. So the number one piece of advice lawyers should give an injured independent contractor is to make sure they’re truly an independent contractor under the law.

So what’s the legal difference? It comes down to how much control your employer has over your work. The more control they have, the more likely it is that you’re an employee, even if they call you a contractor. If, on the other hand, you are very independent, then their label of independent contractor might be correct.

More specifically, here is what we mean by control. If your boss sets your hours, hands out your assignments, requires a uniform, provides a uniform, provides tools or equipment, or requires you to perform your job in a certain way, it shows control. If you decide when, where and how to do your work, then there is less control.

It can be difficult to judge how much control your employer has over your work, especially if you’ve only had a handful of jobs. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney should have a broader perspective because they have evaluated similar situations for many, many workers. They will be able to explain how the law works in your specific situation.

The take-away here is to not give up on benefits because your employer calls you an independent contractor. Make sure. Get legal advice. If you’re actually an employee and eligible for benefits, it can make a big difference. A work injury, especially one that prevents you from doing your job or a serious injury that requires surgery and a long recovery, can really turn things upside down. Workers’ compensation benefits, if you’re eligible, can help you keep control of your life.

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When to report a work accident to your employer

In Illinois, employees are entitled to certain benefits if they get injured on the job. For any injury that arises out of your employment you should be eligible for payment of 100% of your medical expenses and payment of a portion of your lost wages if you are unable to work while you recover. In order to get these benefits, you have to follow a few rules.

One of the initial rules you need to be aware of is employer notification. The law says that you must notify your employer of a job injury within 45 days. If you fail to do this, your claim for benefits could be denied and you might miss out on the compensation you need, even if you have a legitimate work injury. That said, if you think you have already missed the deadline, don’t give up. Check with an experienced Illinois work injury attorney as soon as possible.

Ideally, you should notify your employer much sooner than 45 days. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can just tell your supervisor that you got hurt and include the when and where. Your notice is considered sufficient if it gives them enough information to look into it further. However, like most things, it’s safest to put it in writing. Don’t forget to include the date.

The problem with delaying on this is that the more time that passes, the harder it is to prove that your job caused the injury. And the connection to your job is what will get you benefits. For example, if you come back after a long weekend and tell your boss “I hurt my back at work last week” they might be suspicious that you actually hurt yourself at home over the weekend. 

Don’t trust that your employer, or their insurance company that is paying out the benefits, is going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Even if you have a good relationship with your employer, they’ll most likely jump at the chance to deny your claim. The insurance company makes money when they don’t pay, and their priority is their bottom line.

For most work accidents, the date of injury is clear. It’s the date on which you had the accident. For repetitive trauma injuries, on the other hand, the date of injury is less clear. The law says that you have 45 days from the date on which you realized that your injury was caused by your work. So this could be the day that you see your doctor for the pain in your hand and wrist and they tell you that it’s carpal tunnel syndrome and most likely caused by your work. Again, as soon as you know you have a work injury, let your employer know.

Some employers require you to fill out an accident report after something happens. Make sure you follow this, because you don’t want to get fired or face other consequences from your employer. However, your claim for workers’ compensation is not at risk if you fail to do so. The law requires you to notify your employer but does not require you to fill out an employer’s accident report in order to get benefits. Don’t let your employer convince you otherwise.

There’s no real risk in reporting your injury ASAP, but there’s a lot to lose if you wait too long. The law’s 45-day rule is a good guideline, but sooner is usually better. If you have questions before reporting your injury or concerns about your employer’s reaction, it’s confidential and free to talk to an attorney first.

When the company doctor says there's nothing wrong with you

One of the more frustrating situations we see in workers’ compensation law is when someone has a legitimate injury but is told they’re completely fine. The worker might be hearing this from their boss, or their employer’s insurance company, or even from a doctor affiliated with their employer. Why would they do this? Because injured workers cost them money.

Some employers have a rule that an injured worker has to be seen at a particular doctor’s office or a company clinic. Obviously, that doctor is going to be a bit biased toward the company. They know that it’s in the company’s best interest if you aren’t hurt because then they won’t have to pay workers’ compensation benefits.

You can imagine how frustrating this is to an employee who gets hurt on the job. It’s frustrating for us, too. Our job is to look out for injured workers and their rights, and these types of situations are the exact opposite: employers looking out for only themselves and their bottom line.

The good news is that you don’t have to continue to see the company doctor or go to the company clinic. States have different rules on this, and in Illinois injured employees are allowed to choose their own doctor. Go to a doctor you know and trust, or one that has been recommended by a reliable source.

Your doctor’s opinion on how you were injured, why you were injured, what treatment is best and what you need in order to recover, are central to your workers’ compensation case. Your doctor’s credibility is extremely important. A doctor who is essentially a hired gun of the employer is not going to have the final say, as long as you have a trustworthy doctor in your corner.

Along these same lines, don’t use your lawyer’s hired gun either. Don’t let your attorney direct your medical care or send you to some doctor they send all their clients to. Sure, it might get you a favorable report, but in the long run it will hurt your case. The people who are a part of the local workers’ compensation law community, including the arbitrator who is essentially the judge in your case, will know exactly what’s going on. And the result is that they won’t trust the doctor’s opinion and they might not trust you, either.

Your health should be your first priority. If you know something isn’t right, don’t get discouraged if you get brushed off by the company doctor. Go get a second opinion. And if you are worried about pursuing a claim and what it entails, talk to an experienced lawyer about your concerns. A free consultation is a good place to start, and it’s completely confidential.

Returning to work after injury - what if your job is gone?

Imagine that you have finally reached the point where you can return to your job after a work injury. It seems like good news, but what if there is no job for you when you return? The unfortunate reality is that you can’t turn around and go back to getting workers’ compensation benefits instead. Once you have been released by your doctor to return to work, you no longer qualify for temporary total disability payments.

After an injury, doctors often put restrictions on what the employee can do physically. Maybe they can’t lift anything over 10 pounds, for example. If your employer can’t give you work that allows for your restrictions, then you are entitled to temporary total disability payments. TTD payments are 2/3 of your average weekly wage. In other words, if you can’t perform your required job duties, then you are off work and your employer, or their insurer, gives you 2/3 of your pay while you’re out. 

In most cases, the injured worker’s doctor is eventually able to lift their restrictions because they have healed, or healed enough to go back to work. A recent situation involved a home health aide who was injured on the job. She was unable to work while recovering, due to the restrictions from her doctor. However, when her restrictions were lifted and she was able to return to her job, there simply weren’t any clients available for her to work with. She essentially had no job to return to, and no paycheck either.

Honestly, there’s not much she can do. The employer didn’t appear to do anything unethical or against the law. Although an employer can’t fire an employee because they are injured or because they file a claim for compensation, they don’t have to guarantee that your job will be there for you when you return. This rule often is misunderstood to mean that you can’t be fired while out on workers’ compensation, and that’s not true. The law is there to protect workers from being fired in retaliation for asserting their rights after an injury.

The silver lining is that we have found that your job is actually there more often after a work injury than it would be if you took a leave for a non-work injury.  That’s because the case can have more value if there is no job to return to so often the insurance company will encourage your employer to take you back.

Our promise is to tell it like it is, even if it’s not what you want to hear. And that’s the reality for the injured home health aide. Her only option may be to look for a new job. The law puts this unfortunate timing issue on the employee. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s how it works.

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When a lawyer doesn't tell you their real practice focus

I didn’t know that the Yellow Pages is still in existence, but it is.  Apparently some attorney in a very rural county in southern Illinois has an ad on there that says he has more than 20 years of successfully handling Illinois workers’ compensation claims.

The problem for one of his clients that ended up calling me is that it’s not clear if that is true.  His website lists many practice areas (criminal, real estate, estate planning, civil litigation), but does not mention any history of handling accidents in the workplace in Illinois.

It’s certainly possible that his website isn’t up to date or that he chose not to mention it there.  But for the caller to my office, it appears that because the case is somewhat disputed, this “successful” lawyer has chosen to bury his head in the sand.

Workers’ compensation law isn’t rocket science.  But neither is most areas of law if you have years of handling those cases.  So if you want to get a divorce, even though I’m a lawyer I wouldn’t know how to handle that, at least not in a way that makes it worth you compensating me for it.  On the other hand, if you are hurt on the job, I can help you as can anyone in my network.

My theory is that a lot of lawyers hear injury and they think that means big bucks.  That’s not true and they underestimate the difficulty in successfully handling a case from beginning to end.  And they certainly aren’t taking these cases because it’s in the best interests of the client.

Insurance companies only hire lawyers that focus on defending these cases every day.  So if your representation isn’t up to par, there is a great chance they will get crushed or at least put you in a position to get less than you deserve.

I wish attorneys would be more straight forward with what they do.  If your call is about something not work comp related, all I can do is give general advice (possibly) and then refer you to someone else.  I usually know people for most situations.  If your call is about workers’ compensation, I can give you lots of advice and if needed, someone that I work with and is a part of my state wide network will put your case on the right track.

Before you do hire an attorney, you should look up their website.  If their practice categories seem to be all over the board or if there main focus seems to be something else, don’t hire them.  They might get you a good result, but they don’t give you the best chance for a good result.

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When should you see a doctor after you are hurt at work?

A recent caller to my office was somewhat freaking out.  She had hurt herself while working on a Saturday, but as of the following Tuesday she hadn’t gone to a doctor or the emergency room.  She was hoping that her foot would start to feel better and like many of the people that we talk to, she wanted to just keep working and not have to deal with it. That is an understandable position and usually the sign of a hard working client.

Now that she realizes her problem is getting worse, she wants to see a doctor.  But a friend of hers told her that if you don’t go to get medical help within 24 hours of your injury, you aren’t allowed to get workers’ compensation benefits.

Allegedly that is the law in some other state, but it’s not the law in Illinois.  There is no time limit as to how quickly you have to see a physician, but I will say that the longer you wait, the harder it is to prove your condition is related to the original accident.

The reason behind this is that if you are on a witness stand some day and tell the Arbitrator that you hurt your back in April, but didn’t see a doctor until October, he/she will look at you with skepticism.  All of the Arbitrators are experienced and know how painful a back injury can be.  So if you say that you were able to go six months without any medical intervention, it will raise suspicions that something happened in between that really caused your trouble.  This doesn’t end your chances at a case, but certainly can hurt them.

I hate going to the doctor and other than bugging a buddy that’s an ER doc for advice, I usually just try to figure things out on my own.  So that makes me somewhat of a hypocrite because my advice to you is to never try and tough out an injury that is bothering you for more than a couple of days.  Perhaps the pain will go away, but it’s also possible your delay in treatment will cause you to get much worse.  If you go to the doctor, worst case scenario is that you waste an hour or so of your life because you get better right away.  Best case scenario is your injury doesn’t get out of hand and any potential case doesn’t end up in litigation because you created a potential defense.  Doesn’t it make more sense to just get checked out?

The other lesson from this phone call is that you should not take legal advice from friends that are not attorneys.  They likely have your best interests at heart, but don’t always know what they are talking about.  In this situation, the friend didn’t know that the laws are different from one state to another.  Many other times people confuse what the law actually is because they are going off something that they heard or improperly comparing their experience to yours.  So ask a lawyer.  We’ll always talk to you for free and so will many other firms.

You don't have to be doing your job duties to get work comp benefits

There are lots of insurance company tricks out there as well as bad employers who will lie to you.
 
An example of this came up recently with a gentleman that I consulted with on an accident.  He didn’t need the help of me or any lawyer in my network because fortunately his injuries were very minor.  His normal job involves working on an assembly line.  He took a break and went to the locker room to relax for ten minutes.  As he got up, he stumbled on some loose carpet and reached out to catch his fall.  In the process he cut his hand.
 
The good news is that it could have been much worse. As he was telling the story, I assumed that he was going to tell me that he tore his rotator cuff or hurt his back because we see that a lot when it comes to these types of accidents.  So fortunately there wasn’t much of an injury.  The bad news is that when he asked to go to the hospital they said no because he wasn’t hurt while working, as if that should matter when it comes to his health.
 
But the reality is that even though his job duties don’t involve being in the locker room, it’s reasonably expected that he will go in there so any accident that happens there is covered under workers’ compensation laws in Illinois.
 
I’ve seen similar nonsense with insurance companies telling workers that since they weren’t doing their normal job, they aren’t covered.  That’s pure baloney.  If your normal job is to sit behind a desk and the boss tells you to go make a delivery, well then you better do what the boss says or you’ll get fired.  So if you get hurt while doing what the boss says to do, you receive Illinois workers’ compensation benefits.
 
The exception to this is if you are engaged in horseplay.  For example, if your company has a golf cart at the warehouse and you go for a joy ride in it and crash, that wouldn’t be a work comp case that we could win for you.  But if you are operating it normally and it’s for the benefit of your employer then any injury you get would be covered.
 
In this case, the break the worker took is for his benefit, but also for that of the employer as it allows him to work better when he returns to the line.  He did end up going to the ER and just wants his bill paid.  He hasn’t actually talked to the insurance company yet, so I’m optimistic that will happen.
 
But don’t let anyone tell you that you have no case or can’t make a case, especially when that result benefits them, not you.  Talk to a lawyer.  It’s free and will help you make an educated decision or in this case, figure out what you can do on your own to get the benefits you are entitled to.

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What to expect after a work injury in Illinois.

A serious work injury is impossible to predict, and if it happens to you, it can seem like there are a million unknowns. What happens from the time of your injury, legally speaking, can differ based on your particular circumstances, but there is a general timeline of a typical workers’ compensation claim.

Work injury. A slip and fall, or something more serious, is usually the start of a workers’ compensation case. Whether it’s a sudden injury or something that develops over time, you shouldn’t just wait it out. One of the best things you can do, aside from seeking medical treatment, is to be proactive about your claim for benefits. Gather all the information you can.

Medical treatment. If your injury is sudden and severe, medical treatment is a given. But even if it seems like you might be able to work through it, go see a doctor if there’s any doubt. An injury can worsen quickly. If you wait, things might get worse. You could put your health, and a potential claim for benefits, at risk.

Notification deadline. You have to notify your employer of your work injury within 45 days of the date of the injury. If your condition or injury doesn’t have a specific date on which it occurred, then your deadline is 45 days from the date you knew your injury was work related.

Talk to an attorney. There’s no such thing as doing this too soon, especially if your injury is serious. If you’re unsure of whether you need legal help, at least get a free consultation and get all of your questions answered.

File a claim for benefits. You might start getting benefits regardless, but make sure to get this paperwork filed in case a problem comes up down the road and you need to request a hearing with an arbitrator. The form is called an Application for Adjustment of Claim and is filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Your arbitrator. Every claim is assigned to an arbitrator, who acts like a judge in your case. They will put your case on their docket regularly for status hearings to monitor any progress. If there is a dispute in your case, the arbitrator will make a decision after a hearing. They’ll also oversee your trial if you have one.

Your benefits. Ideally, you should start getting benefits fairly quickly. Temporary Total Disability benefits are available four days after you get hurt and you can expect TTD checks every two weeks. These are if you are unable to work. Your medical benefits should start right away, and you should be covered 100%. This includes doctor visits, medication, tests and even surgery.

Status call. These usually happen every three months to monitor the progress of your claim. If your case is moving along normally, then nothing much will happen and your case will be put on the calendar for another three months. If you want a trial, your attorney can request one at your status hearing.

Hearings on a dispute. As we mentioned, your attorney can request a hearing if there is a dispute in your case. A common reason is because benefits aren’t being paid. Your attorney will argue that you are entitled to benefits and hopefully the insurance company will be forced to pay.

Settlement. The majority of workers’ compensation claims in Illinois settle at the end. This means that you receive a lump sum in exchange for ending your case (no more benefits in the future). It’s important to understand what rights you are giving up in a settlement. It’s also important to go through this process with an attorney who understands the value of your case. You won’t get a second chance.

Trial. If a settlement agreement can’t be reached, the case can go to trial. Attorneys for both sides will present their cases, and the arbitrator will make a final decision. Make sure your attorney is willing to take your case this far if it’s necessary in order to get you a fair outcome.

Lawyers aren’t always good at explaining the big picture to clients or letting them know what to expect step by step. We try our best to give straightforward information to people. We hope this answers your questions, but if it doesn’t, just give us a call.

Workers' compensation claim vs. personal injury lawsuit.

These two types of injury cases often get confused. They are different areas of law for the most part. But it’s worth knowing the differences, because if you don’t have a valid workers’ compensation claim, you might be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit instead. One main difference between the two is how you prove your case. In a work injury situation, you have to prove that your injury arose out of and in the course of your employment. In other words, you have to show that it was job related. If you can do this, you should be entitled to benefits. You don’t have to prove that anyone was at fault or caused your injury. In a personal injury lawsuit, much of it rides on your ability to prove fault and causation. You usually can’t win unless you prove negligence, for example. In a work injury, it doesn’t matter whether it was your fault, or your employer’s fault, or no one’s fault.

A work injury case is an insurance claim, not a lawsuit. If you have a work injury, then you are not allowed to bring a lawsuit against your employer. The whole workers’ compensation system was set up as a trade-off of sorts. Employers are protected from lawsuits, and employees are entitled to benefits as long as an injury was related to the job.

There are some circumstances in which an injured worker would still have the option of a lawsuit. If an injury is caused by a third party – someone other than the employer – then the employee may be able to file an injury lawsuit against that third party. For example, if you are injured at a job site because the property owner was negligent, then you can sue the property owner for damages.

Another example of a third-party lawsuit is a lawsuit for a defective product. A defective piece of equipment or a tool that malfunctions can cause serious injury. There might be a lawsuit against the manufacturer in such cases.

Get a lawyer who understands the big picture and how these two areas of law work. And don’t wait too long. If you plan to go after workers’ compensation benefits, you have just 45 days to notify your employer. Other deadlines apply, as well. Benefits in Illinois include coverage of 100% of your medical bills (with no out-of-pocket expenses), as well as payment of lost wages if you are unable to work due to your injury. You can get 2/3 of your average weekly wage while you recover.

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Hurt at work and you have more than one job

In Illinois, workers’ compensation law gives workers certain benefits if they are injured on the job. One major benefit in many cases is payment of 2/3 of your average weekly wage until you’re well enough to return to work. But many people have more than one job. What happens if you get hurt at one job and it prevents you from working at your second job? Can you expect any additional help from workers’ compensation to cover those lost wages, as well?

If you are working more than one job, you are still entitled to the same help to get you back on your feet. Illinois law says that employees can collect lost wage benefits for a second job, even if the injury didn’t occur at that job. There is a catch, however. You can only collect wage benefits related to your second job if your employer at your first job, where you were hurt, knew about your second job.

Let’s say you work overnight on a loading dock and you have a second job during the day driving a delivery truck for a different employer. One night you get hurt while unloading boxes. It’s a back injury and your doctor says that you can’t do any lifting, and you can’t drive. You rely on both jobs to pay the bills but your injury prevents you from doing either, at least until you recover. If your boss at the loading dock knew about your second job as a delivery driver, then you can include those wages for calculating your benefits checks. If that employer didn’t know, you probably won’t be allowed to collect benefits related to the delivery job. 

There are a few other things to keep in mind. For one, part-time employees are covered under workers’ compensation laws in Illinois, and there is no rule that requires you to work for your employer for a certain amount of time before qualifying. Independent contractors, on the other hand, are not entitled to benefits. Make sure you are truly an independent contractor before giving up on any benefits, however, because employers don’t always properly label their workers. And volunteers generally aren’t entitled to benefits under Illinois law.

Benefits are paid out by your employer, or their insurance company in many cases. Don’t rely on them to accurately calculate your average weekly wage. It’s in their best interest to pay you less, which is obviously not in your best interest. They might try to avoid paying based on wages from more than one job, for example. Other issues include bonuses and overtime and whether those get included, as well. The good thing about hiring an experienced workers’ compensation attorney is that they should know all the little tricks the insurance company tries to get away with. You need someone on your side who knows how the game is played.

 

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You can still get benefits if you were breaking the rules.

It’s not uncommon for us to hear about an employee who got hurt on the job because they weren’t following proper safety precautions. An employer might have various consequences for employees who don’t follow safety rules, but they can’t take away your right to workers’ compensation benefits. Illinois law decides who can and can’t get these benefits, which include payment for lost wages and coverage of medical expenses. The law in Illinois says that you are eligible for benefits, even if you broke safety rules, as long as you were doing your job. This surprises some people, but the idea is that you were still doing something for the benefit of your employer when you got hurt. Just because you were doing it wrong, doesn’t mean you weren’t doing your job. If you were doing what you were hired to do, then you should be eligible for benefits in the event of an injury.

On the other hand, if you were doing something for your own personal benefit, you might be out of luck. Illinois law doesn’t extend benefits to employees who get hurt while doing something completely unrelated to their job. Of course, there are a million different scenarios and many of them end up in some gray area between these two rules.

If you were running a machine for your employer and suffered an eye injury because you weren’t wearing protective eyewear like you were supposed to, you should still be entitled to benefits. The same is true if you were driving to a job site and got in a vehicle accident because you were in a hurry to get there.

At the other end of the spectrum is a worker who is goofing around and riding on the back of a forklift for fun when the employer has a rule that they aren’t supposed to do that. If they get hurt, they probably won’t be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits because they were doing something for their own benefits – horsing around with their co-workers – and not doing anything for the benefit of their employer.

Along the same lines is the issue of fault in any work injury. Just like violation of safety rules doesn’t disqualify you, neither does the fact that an injury is your fault. Again, as long as you were doing your job, you should be covered. Fault is not an issue in workers’ compensation law. You are covered no matter what, as long as it’s work related. The same is true for the employer. Regardless of their fault, you are entitled to benefits.

Taking fault out of the equation is meant to simplify the process for getting benefits to workers and getting them back on the job. Employees give up their right to sue (lawsuits are not allowed in a work injury) and employers pay benefits regardless of fault.

An important note of caution: Don’t let the insurance company or your employer convince you that you are not entitled to benefits because you are at fault or because you violated company policy. It’s in their interest to make your claim go away. It’s in your best interest to talk to a lawyer and assert your rights. So just keep in mind that your employer is not necessarily on your side, and the insurance company most certainly isn’t.

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Is your workers' compensation lawyer acting in your best interests?

If you have been seriously injured and can’t work, the benefits you get under Illinois workers’ compensation law can be vital to your health, financial stability and the well being of your family. Hiring a lawyer to handle your work injury case can be a leap of faith, but it’s one of the best things you can do to ensure a good outcome. Of course, you need to make sure the attorney you hire is excellent at what they do and how they do it.

If you suspect that your lawyer is acting unethically, don’t ignore your suspicions. Even if they aren’t violating the specific rules of ethics that attorneys are required to follow, they may have other faults that are detrimental to your case. Here are some red flags:

Directing your medical care. Your attorney definitely should be aware of, and interested in, your medical care. It’s a major part of your case. However, they should not be telling you which doctors or therapists to see. Some lawyers have arrangements with doctors to refer cases back and forth. The problem with this is that it puts their interests ahead of yours. It should be the other way around. Also, it makes your case less credible.

Ignoring your calls, emails, etc. There is a range of bad behavior in this category, from attorneys who simply aren’t good communicators, to those who are too busy to handle your case or too lazy to care. You should expect your attorney to keep in contact about all major updates in your case. You should expect them to get back to you in a reasonable amount of time if you reach out to them, which in our opinion means they should get back to you within a couple of days at the most.

Promising you a certain amount on your case. It’s misleading to tell a client that their case is worth “x dollars.” There is no way to know at the outset. Some attorneys make promises in order to get clients. If your attorney does give you a number, they should also be explaining that it is a ballpark amount based on other cases they have handled in the past.

Passing your case off to another attorney at the firm. You might meet with one of the firm’s partners when you first go in to hire them but then later find out they have passed your file on to a younger associate. This is common, but you don’t have to agree to it. If you aren’t confident in the ability of the younger attorney to handle your case, speak up and ask about their experience. You certainly don’t want your case to be used to train a newly licensed attorney.

Offering to also handle your child support problem and write up your will. The point here is that an attorney who focuses on one area of law (or a small number of related areas) is going to get more experience in that type of case. If your attorney handles workers’ compensation cases day in and day out, they will probably be better equipped to handle your work injury case than someone who handles a few of these cases a year. 

Like we said, not all of these things are technically unethical, but we wouldn’t put up with any of them if we were a client.

Holding a law license allows you to practice law but it doesn’t say anything about your character or how hard you work for your clients. Some lawyers are caught and disciplined for bad behavior. You can check whether your attorney has ever been disciplined or had their license suspended by looking them up on the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission website. Most of the time, unfortunately, it’s up to the client to use their judgment. It’s not too much to expect your attorney to work hard to make sure you are getting all the benefits you’re entitled to and stand up to the insurance company if they aren’t paying you. It’s not too much to ask that your attorney communicate with you. If you have questions about any of this, give us a call.

 

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