Whether you work on a construction site or at an office desk, workplace injuries can happen to anyone. That’s why Montana requires all employers in the state to pay for workers’ compensation insurance.
If you’re hurt at work or during a work-related activity, those workers’ comp benefits are designed to help you financially recover. You should still have a backup plan and good insurance, of course. Workers’ compensation can take time to come through and may not cover every situation.
Notify your employer of any injuries immediately. Reporting your injury within 30 days is the first step towards filing a claim, but you shouldn’t wait to tell your company about your accident or illness.
You’ll need to fill out a First Report of Injury for your employer (and their insurance company) within a year of the accident, but again, sooner is better. Even if you’re not planning on filing a claim for benefits, it’s a good idea to still take these steps.
What Does Workers’ Compensation Cover?
In Montana, workers’ compensation pays benefits if you sustain a work related injury or an occupational disease like carpal tunnel syndrome. The injury must happen at work or during an activity directly related to work, whether or not it happens on company property.
Here are some examples to help explain that a little more clearly:
An accident in a company vehicle that occurs while you’re doing your job is likely to be covered.
If you fall and hurt your back while putting up decorations for the company holiday party, you will also probably qualify for workers’ compensation. That’s a work-sponsored event, and putting up the decorations is part of your job.
However, if you are on company-owned property after hours for some reason other than work and you sustain an injury, that’s different. Simply being on company property doesn’t automatically mean you’re covered under workers’ compensation, as the injury must be directly related to work activities.
At times, workers’ compensation claims can be a little tricky. Some situations are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Gray Areas in Workers’ Comp Claims
Situations like these may or may not be covered by workers’ compensation depending on the details of the case.
- Horseplay – any injuries that are caused by employees completely disregarding safety rules might be denied workers’ compensation benefits.
- Lunch breaks – being hurt during a lunch break could be considered an injury outside of work activities, and therefore denied.
- Alcohol – in situations where the company provides alcohol, and intoxication results in injuries after the conclusion of work-related activities, claims may or may not be approved.
- Mental injuries – workers’ compensation claims for mental injuries have mixed results.
- Preexisting conditions – if a preexisting condition is worsened by a job, the claim might be denied.
Having your claim denied isn’t necessarily the end of the line. You can still request mediation, petition for a hearing, and go through an appeals process to get the benefits you deserve.
Can You Sue Your Employer in Montana?
For injuries that are covered by workers’ compensation, you generally can’t sue your employer. That’s the whole reason they pay for workers’ compensation insurance. You’re protected by those benefits, and they’re protected from lawsuits.
That being said, there are some situations in which you can sue after an injury at work. You can sue for a workplace accident when:
- You believe your employer caused you harm on purpose. This is called intentional tort.
- You are suing a 3rd party that caused harm, such as the manufacturer of defective equipment that caused an injury.
- Your workers’ comp claim is denied, you’ve exhausted the administrative process, and you want to sue for benefits.
Having an attorney to help with your workers’ comp claim can make the entire process much easier, even if you don’t plan on suing your employer.
Consider sitting down with a work accident lawyer to go over your claim before you file. They can help you determine the value of your claim, give you valuable advice that improves your chances of getting benefits paid to you, and answer any tricky questions you might have.
Your Rights if You’re Hurt at Work
Being hurt at work might mean you can’t work for a little while. Hopefully you’ll make a quick and full recovery! In the meantime, you probably have some questions about your job and your rights.
In Montana (as in most states) your job is not protected while you’re out recovering from an injury. Your employer can fire you or replace you while you’re out on workers’ comp leave, though they can’t fire you because you filed for benefits. They can terminate your employment for any other legitimate business reason, though, including needing to get work done.
Rehiring preference is a right that might help you get back into the workforce after you’ve recovered. Within 2 years after your injury, your former employer must give you preference over other applicants as long as you apply for a comparable position. You must be cleared by your doctor, qualified for the job, and physically able to perform the work.
For longer term absences, you might be covered under a federal protection.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to any employers with 50 or more people working for them. It requires your company to provide as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave if you’re seriously ill and can’t work. If you’re capable of returning to work after those 12 weeks of leave, your employer must return you to the same or a similar job.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to any company with 15 or more employees. Under the ADA, a company can’t discriminate against an employee on the basis of their disability, and they must provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled employees perform job tasks.
In the best case scenario, you don’t need to file for workers’ compensation at all. Life happens, though, and if you need help navigating the Montana legal system, it’s okay to ask for help.