Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
June 10, 2024

Save hours and build better websites.

Workers' compensation is a state-mandated insurance program that provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses. The primary purpose of workers' compensation is to ensure that injured workers receive the necessary medical care and financial support without the need to prove fault or negligence. This no-fault system benefits both employees and employers: employees get timely assistance, and employers are protected from potentially costly lawsuits.

Legal Framework

The legal framework governing workers' compensation in California is established by the California Labor Code and is administered by the Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC). Key laws and regulations include:

California Labor Code Sections 3200-6002: These sections outline the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees within the workers' compensation system.   

Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC): The DWC oversees the administration of workers' compensation claims, ensuring compliance with the law and resolving disputes between injured workers and employers or insurance companies.

Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB): The WCAB handles appeals and disputes related to workers' compensation claims, providing a judicial platform for resolving contested cases.

Who is Covered

Workers' compensation benefits in California are available to a broad range of employees, including:

Employees: Any person employed by a business, organization, or individual in California is generally covered. This includes full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers.

Certain Categories of Workers: Specific categories of workers who may not be classified as traditional employees but are still eligible for workers' compensation benefits include:

   - Undocumented Workers: They have the same rights to workers' compensation benefits as any other employee.

   - Domestic Workers: Housekeepers, nannies, and other domestic workers are covered under specific conditions.

   - Agricultural Workers: Farmworkers are entitled to workers' compensation benefits for work-related injuries.

   - Independent Contractors: Generally, independent contractors are not covered by workers' compensation. However, there are exceptions based on the nature of their work and their relationship with the employer.

Rights of Injured Workers

Right to Medical Treatment

Injured workers in California have the right to receive medical treatment for work-related injuries or illnesses. This right ensures that employees can access the necessary medical care to recover and return to work as soon as possible. Key aspects include:

Immediate Care: Injured workers are entitled to immediate medical treatment after an injury. Employers are required to provide access to medical care without delay.  

Choice of Doctor: Initially, the employer’s insurance company usually directs the injured worker to a specific medical provider. After a certain period or under specific conditions, workers may have the option to choose their own doctor within the insurance network.   

Coverage of Medical Expenses: Workers' compensation covers all reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to the injury, including doctor visits, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, and medical equipment.

Right to Disability Benefits

Injured workers may be entitled to disability benefits if their injury prevents them from working. These benefits are designed to replace a portion of the worker's lost wages and are categorized as follows:

Temporary Disability Benefits

   - Temporary Total Disability (TTD): Paid when an injured worker cannot work at all during recovery. Benefits are typically two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage, up to a statutory maximum.

   - Temporary Partial Disability (TPD): Paid when an injured worker can perform some work but cannot earn their usual wages. Benefits are calculated based on the difference between the pre-injury wages and the reduced earnings during recovery.

Permanent Disability Benefits

   - Permanent Partial Disability (PPD): Paid when an injury results in permanent impairment but allows the worker to perform some work. The amount depends on the severity of the impairment and the worker’s pre-injury wages.

   - Permanent Total Disability (PTD): Paid when an injury results in complete and permanent inability to work. These benefits provide ongoing financial support for the injured worker.

Right to Return to Work

Injured workers have rights regarding their return to work, including accommodations and modified duties:

Modified Duties: Employers are encouraged to provide modified or light-duty work that accommodates the worker’s medical restrictions. This helps the worker transition back to full duties gradually.   

Reasonable Accommodations: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California law, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities, ensuring they can perform their job duties safely.

Job Protection: Employers cannot terminate or discriminate against workers for filing a workers' compensation claim or for being injured at work. Injured workers have the right to return to their jobs when medically able.

Right to Appeal

If a workers' compensation claim is denied or if there is a dispute regarding benefits, injured workers have the right to appeal the decision. The process includes:

Filing an Application for Adjudication: To start the appeal process, the worker must file an application with the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB).   

Requesting a Hearing: The worker or their attorney can request a hearing before a workers' compensation judge to resolve the dispute.

Dispute Resolution: The WCAB provides various methods to resolve disputes, including conferences, mediations, and trials. During these proceedings, the injured worker can present evidence and arguments to support their claim.

Appealing to Higher Courts: If the worker disagrees with the WCAB’s decision, they can appeal to higher courts, such as the California Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court.

Types of Workers' Compensation Benefits

Medical Benefits

Workers' compensation in California provides comprehensive medical benefits to cover the costs of treating work-related injuries and illnesses. These benefits ensure that injured workers receive the necessary medical care without incurring out-of-pocket expenses. Covered medical care includes:

Doctor’s Visits: Regular appointments with primary care physicians and specialists.

Hospital Stays: Inpatient care for surgeries, severe injuries, or prolonged treatments.

Surgeries: Procedures necessary to treat or correct work-related injuries.

Medications: Prescription drugs required for pain management, infection control, or ongoing treatment.

Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation services to restore function and mobility.

Diagnostic Tests: X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other tests to diagnose the injury.

Medical Equipment: Items such as crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices.

Temporary Disability Benefits

Temporary Disability (TD) benefits are designed to replace lost wages for workers who are temporarily unable to perform their job duties due to a work-related injury. There are two types of TD benefits:

Temporary Total Disability (TTD)

   - Eligibility: Workers who cannot work at all during their recovery period.

   - Amount: Typically, TTD benefits are two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage, subject to minimum and maximum limits set by state law.

   - Duration: Paid until the worker can return to work or reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI).

Temporary Partial Disability (TPD)

   - Eligibility: Workers who can perform some work but earn less than their pre-injury wages.

   - Amount: Benefits are calculated as two-thirds of the difference between the worker’s pre-injury wages and current earnings.

   - Duration: Paid until the worker’s wages return to pre-injury levels or they reach MMI.

Permanent Disability Benefits

Permanent Disability (PD) benefits are for workers who suffer lasting impairments that affect their ability to work. These benefits are divided into two categories:

Permanent Partial Disability (PPD)

   - Eligibility: Workers who have a permanent impairment but can still work in some capacity.

   - Amount: The compensation amount is based on the severity of the disability, the worker’s age, occupation, and earning capacity.

   - Duration: Paid based on a predetermined schedule that considers the extent of the disability.

Permanent Total Disability (PTD)

   - Eligibility: Workers who are permanently unable to perform any work due to their injury.

   - Amount: Typically, PTD benefits are two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage for life, subject to minimum and maximum limits.

Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits

Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits (SJDB) are provided to workers who cannot return to their previous job due to their injury and require retraining or skill enhancement. These benefits include:

Voucher: A non-transferable voucher worth up to $6,000 for education-related retraining or skill enhancement.

Eligible Expenses: Tuition, books, fees, and other expenses related to retraining or acquiring new skills.

Time Frame: The voucher is typically issued after the worker’s condition is declared permanent and stationary, and the employer cannot offer suitable modified or alternative work.

Death Benefits

Death benefits are available to the dependents of workers who die as a result of a work-related injury or illness. These benefits provide financial support to the deceased worker’s family and include:

Funeral Expenses: Reasonable costs for burial or cremation, up to a statutory maximum.

Dependency Benefits: Payments to the worker’s dependents based on the worker’s earnings and the number of dependents.

   - Eligible Dependents: Spouse, children, and other family members who were financially dependent on the worker.

   - Amount and Duration: Benefits are typically two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage, subject to statutory limits, and are paid over a period determined by the number of dependents.