While Illinois workers’ compensation laws are generally employee friendly, there are requirements that workers must follow if they are hurt on their job. If they don’t, they can lose their rights to benefits even if they otherwise would have had a good case.
At the outset of a case, you are required by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act to notify your employer of an injury within 45 days of when you knew or should have known that you have an injury that is related to your job. If you don’t then you forfeit your right to get benefits. In other words, you’d have to pay for all of your medical care, won’t get paid for your time off work, and won’t get a settlement even if there is no other defense to your case.
So how do you prove notice to your employer? Let’s count the ways.
1. The safest thing to do is put it in writing in a way you can prove. That could be a certified letter. It could be via email. It can be by text. It needs to be something that if push came to shove you can testify credibly as to how you told them.
2. The other surefire way is to file an application for adjustment of claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission within 45 days of your injury. That’s what lawyers do (for free) when we are hired. If you are hurt on January 1 and officially file a case on January 20, there can be no dispute that notice was given.
3. You can verbally tell a supervisor, HR, the owner, etc. what happened. While they can always lie and say you never did, that doesn’t usually work if you come off as credible. A phone call history log might back you up a bit and I certainly recommend you write down when you gave notice, what you said and who you said it to.
4. They can witness the accident. If you are walking on a factory floor and get hit by a forklift (crazy how often that happens), if your boss is standing there and sees you get taken to the hospital, that is noticed. If you are lifting a box and feel a pop in your back, if you yell, “Ow! my back!” and your foreman is right there, that’s probably appropriate notice. I don’t recommend that you rely on this but many cases have been won when it’s obvious that the employer is aware of what happened. This is especially true when you follow up with an off-work slip from your doctor.
The way workers get tripped up in these cases is when they hurt themselves, don’t think it will be a big deal, and then delay getting serious medical care for many weeks. Or even workers who report their injuries on time, but late can have issues. If you are hurt on March 10th and don’t tell your boss about it until April 15th, you are within the time limits, but the delay can make things look suspicious.
The bottom line is that the safest thing you can do is to report an accident right away and do it in writing. That doesn’t mean you are going to bring a case, but it does mean you are going to make sure you don’t lose your rights based on some technicality.