North Carolina Workers' Compensation Basics
Below you will find a Hardison & Cochran Podcast episode about protecting yourself legally after being injury at work to preserve a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation claim. The transcript from this episode is also below for those who would simply like to read and not listen. To listen or read transcripts from other podcasts from Hardison & Cochran, please visit our Podcast Page.
Episode #1 North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Basics with Ben Cochran
Bill Campbell: [00:00:14] Ben if you could please introduce yourself to the listeners and give them a little background on your career as an attorney.
Ben Cochran: [00:00:44] My name’s Ben Cochran. I’ve been practicing workers compensation law for approximately 15 years now. I have been board certified in worker’s compensation law. After the practice of five years, which is a requirement in order to obtain a board certification.
Board Certification means that I am licensed by the North Carolina State Bar to say that I am an expert in worker’s compensation law. Essentially meaning that my primary focus or primary practice in the legal profession is worker’s compensation.
Bill Campbell: [00:01:18] OK let’s get right into it. First question Ben, if someone is injured at work what are some of the things they need to be doing to protect themselves legally?
Ben Cochran: [00:01:27] The first thing you want to do when you’re injured on the job is you want to notify your employer. A lot of different employers have procedures or policies in how they want this done. Most of the time there is some type of accident report or form that is utilized by the employer so that they can keep an accurate record of what happened.
You want to make sure to be as detailed as possible when you’re executing these forms. Make sure that they are done the same day that the accident happens. Once you’ve reported it to your employer it becomes time for you to seek medical treatment.
You ask the employer where to go for medical treatment. In North Carolina it is their obligation and also their right to direct medical treatment, which means they get to send you to the doctors of their choosing. Once you are told which doctor to go. When you present to that doctor, it’s very important that you do a couple things.
The first thing you want to make sure you do is when you’re filling out paperwork, you indicate that the reason you’re there is due to a work related injury. You want to document this as many times as you can, especially in the early onset of the claim.
Now once you described how the accident happened you need to make sure that you note every body part that was injured even if you don’t think it’s significantly injured. You need to make sure that you tell the medical provider all the body parts that are injured and explain all the symptoms that you’re having. That way that if something comes up later there isn’t any question as to all the body parts that were injured.
Bill Campbell: [00:03:10] What if someone sustains an injury but it isn’t known to them right that minute that they’re injured. For example someone simply twist their back when they’re picking up the item on Monday and they might feel a little bit of pain but they can work through it. But on Tuesday morning they simply can’t get out of bed and it’s just killing them to get out of bed. And it’s obvious that it’s an injury.
Ben Cochran: [00:03:30] Oftentimes people call the office and they tell me that they haven’t reported the accident yet, that it’s just happened and they need to know what to do. Well let’s say that the accident did just happen the day before and you didn’t report it to your employer because you thought it was going to go away.
You didn’t think it was going to get worse. And affect your ability to perform your daily life activities. But that’s happened. Once again you have to immediately notify your employer. They may tell you, “Well come on in.
Fill out the report and then we’ll work on sending you to a doctor.” If that’s the case you want to immediately present to work, fill out the appropriate paperwork and get to the doctor as soon as possible. If they elect to tell you that they can’t fill out any paperwork because it’s not the same day you didn’t report it within its 24 hour period then unfortunately that’s false. In North Carolina, you have 30 days to provide written notice to the employer of a work related injury.
So you are still within the time period. If that happens you present to your own doctor make sure to note to your own doctor how the injuries happened, when you started to feel the symptoms and what exactly occurred. So that we have another documented record that indicates the injury how it happened and when it happened. You want to make sure that you go to the doctor as soon as you can. If the employer doesn’t tell you when to go.
Bill Campbell: [00:05:11] With many legal cases you know reports witnesses any kind of evidence is obviously a huge deal. So if an injured employee is called in to their employer and they want to talk to them about the accident what do they need to say during that meeting or what do they not need to say from your experience working with clients who have been injured?
Ben Cochran: [00:05:33] When you’re speaking with your supervisors about the work related injury.
You want to make sure that you are as forthcoming about all the information that is necessary for them to investigate what happened. You want to make sure and identify any witnesses; people who saw or even heard what happened.
You also want to make sure that the manager fills out the appropriate paperwork. There are many times where folks call my office and they say, “I told the supervisor, but he didn’t write it down.” Make sure he writes it down.
Additionally, you want to follow up with the supervisor in terms of seeking the medical treatment, making sure that reports are filed and asking the supervisor if he needs any additional information from you. Put the onus back on your supervisor. Leave the ball with him as to something necessary to be done so that they can say,”well I was waiting for him to do something.”
Bill Campbell: [00:06:34] Now here’s the big question that a lot of people have and I know they have when they when they call you is when they’re in the process after someone has been injured at work. At what point is it smart to obtain the services of a lawyer?
Ben Cochran: [00:06:49] When people call my office and ask when’s the appropriate time to hire an attorney, I tell him when there are red flags. Red flags in the worker’s compensation claim are first and foremost when the workers compensation carrier or the employer tell you that they’re not going to provide something for you.
In North Carolina, worker’s compensation benefits primarily entail medical treatment, lost wages due to disability and the payment of any permit partial disability based upon a permanent injury. So at any point in time that an insurance company or an employer tells the injured worker we’re not going to authorize medical treatment, we’re not going to provide lost wage benefits or we don’t think you’re entitled to a settlement, those are three different reasons where the insurance company has thrown up red flags.
Those folks are more likely than not will either need at least consultation on how to remedy the situation or an attorney to help remedy the situation. That is one of the areas of red flags. The other important red flag that I tell folks about is when they’re not physically capable of going back to doing their job.
So let’s say that you are a carpenter and you suffer an injury when you fall from a ladder. And ultimately after surgeries the doctor releases maximum medical improvement. He says you’re as good as you’re going to get, but you have restrictions of no climbing ladders.
So at that point you can’t go back to doing the same job that you were doing. At that point your interest become in direct conflict with your employer and the worker’s compensation carrier. Because they no longer can get you back to work where you were working.
That means that they will have to continue to provide you lost wages until such time as they are capable of getting you back to work. They want to do that for a brief period of time without taking into consideration your interests and your legal rights. Those folks need attorneys.
Bill Campbell: [00:09:16] Some people fear hiring or even simply speaking with a lawyer because they’re afraid if it’s discovered by their employer they’re going to be fired. So in North Carolina can an employee be fired for simply talking to or hiring a lawyer for their workers compensation claim?
Ben Cochran: [00:09:31] In North Carolina, if you file a worker’s compensation claim or if you contact an attorney and discuss workers compensation claim, an employer cannot simply fire you because of you pursuing those legal rights.
In North Carolina, we have laws that protect injured employees from being retaliated upon for pursuing their legal rights. It is called the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act .
So you do have legal recourse if your employer fires you for contacting an attorney about a worker’s compensation claim or you hire an attorney for a worker’s compensation claim or simply filing a worker’s compensation claim.