Someone got hurt on the job...now what? The policies and procedures for workplace injuries vary slightly across the United States, with each state having their own separate Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC). In this post, we will be taking a closer look at what Californian employers need to do when injury occurs in their workplace.

California law requires all employers to provide worker's compensation insurance to their employees, regardless of the size of the organization. Keep in mind that this is considered part of the cost of doing business and therefore asking workers to help cover the cost of their workers' compensation insurance is not allowed.

Do I need to report this incident or injury?

While minor workplace injuries and illnesses do not need to be recorded according to California's OSHA criteria, (skin rashes, small cuts, ect), more significant injuries will need to be reported. The reportable injury criteria are:

  • Death 
  • Days away from work
  • Restricted work or transfer to another job
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional

Reporting an illness or injury in a timely manner is essential to the claims' process. The initial claim form ( DWC form 1) must be submitted with 1 day of finding out about the illness or injury, and should be followed by form DLSR 5020 within 5 days. 

To help expedite the process from the business end of the claim, the employer should ensure that their workers have accesss to the information and forms necessary to begin the process. This can be achieved simply by:

  • Setting up a system for employees to promptly report work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Involving employees and their representatives in this recordkeeping system by:
    • Informing each employee about the system for reporting
    • Telling each employee how to report injuries or illnesses
  • Providing access as specified to current or stored Cal/OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301 for: 
    • Employees, former employees and their personal and authorized representatives

It is also important to keep in contact with the injured worker throughout the process. While a case worker should regularly be in touch with them regarding their claim, it should not be assumed that they are taking care of everything.

Protip Injuries California-2

Workers have the right to report their injury and it is against the law for an employer to punish or terminate the worker's employment for filing a claim. 

Create a return to work plan (if necessary)

There is no obligation for employers in California to provide employment to a worker after they have been injured, however, it is greatly encouraged. By helping a worker return to work as soon as it is medically safe for them to be there is beneficial to your business in many ways. Be aware that a return to work program must meet the criteria of two sets of California laws. We are going to give you a brief overview of the steps to take, but the DWC has a great handbook that provides lots of details on how to approach this process.

The employee's successful return to work depends on your ability and willingness to help them be successful. Modified work plans help you retain experienced workers (and avoid training and hiring costs), as well as help with worker relations and morale, as workers will see that an injury does not threaten their job security.

There are 6 steps to creating a successful return to work plan for an injured worker

  1. Contact the injured employee and start the interactive process
  2. Describe essential functions and usual duties of jobs
  3. Obtain work capacities and restrictions
  4. Research and evaluate possible accommodations
  5. Select a reasonable accommodation and make an offer of work
  6. Implement and monitor the accommodation

You may get to step 4 or 5 and start to wonder what is considered a reasonable accommodation. Luckily, DWC has a list of acceptable modifications that can help a worker comfortably ease back into the work environment:

  • Limiting tasks to those that are safe for the employee (“job restructuring”)
  • Making changes in the way duties are performed
  • Physically adjusting the work station based on an ergonomic evaluation
  • Providing new equipment and training on how to use it
  • Establishing a part-time work schedule
  • Allowing time off for medical appointments or medically necessary time off for a longer period while recovering

When trying to put together your offer of work, it may be helpful to consult the employee and their primary physician regarding their current abilities and any restrictions that may apply, and whether any further adjustments will need to be taken going forward. If the worker is still recovering when they return to work, be prepared to remove or reduce restrictions as their recovery progresses. This will most likely come to you in the form of instructions from their health care provider.

What's Next?

It's important that you maintain regular contact with your worker, their doctor, and the DWC at every step of the process. However, what happens after an injury or illness depends on whether or not the worker is able to return to their job.

Once a worker's claim has been accepted, the benefits they receive will depend on the prognosis and overall outcome of their injury. We have quoted these directly from the DWC so as to not misinterpret any the information:

Temporary disability benefits

Temporary disability (TD) benefits are paid if an injured employee loses wages because the employee cannot do his or her regular job while recovering and the employer cannot offer work that meets the employee’s work restrictions. TD benefits are not paid if the employer offers appropriate work at a sufficient pay rate while the employee is recovering.

Supplemental job displacement benefit

A supplemental job displacement benefit (SJDB) is paid to an injured employee who is eligible to receive permanent disability benefits if the employer cannot offer modified or alternative work meeting certain requirements. The benefit is in the form of a voucher that promises to help pay for educational retraining or skill enhancement, or both. The voucher is not paid, however, if the employer offers appropriate modified or alternative work.

Permanent disability benefits

Permanent disability (PD) benefits are paid every two weeks if an injured employee sustains a permanent disability that limits his or her ability to compete for jobs or earn a living in the future. Employers with 50 or more employees can reduce these payments by 15 percent by offering regular, modified, or alternative work meeting certain requirements. If the employer does not make this offer, the payments increase by 15 percent.

Getting an injured worker back to work is a team effort, and as long as everyone works together, both your business and your worker can get back to business as usual.

Not from California? Not a problem. We also have blog posts outlining the requirements for Texas, as well as for the Canadian provinces of BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario!

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