So, you show up for work as you have thousands of times before, and out of nowhere it happens…you get injured. No big deal, right? In some situations, it may not be a big deal, but for many, suffering a work-related injury can be a life-changing experience, bringing about financial and employment uncertainty.
Many workers in New Mexico often make the mistake of believing that a work-related injury is essentially no different than suffering any other injury—for instance in a car accident. While the injury may be the same, the legal ramifications differ significantly.
For example, work-related injuries and the benefits/responsibilities associated with that injury are heavily governed by statute (New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act). This can prove to be a double-edged sword for an injured worker. On one hand it provides essential and valuable benefits to the worker, but on the other, places significant responsibilities on the worker that must be strictly followed in order to ensure proper recovery of benefits. Failure to comply with these guidelines can bar an injured worker’s entire claim.
While the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act can be complex and daunting, there are some pretty basic requirements, every injured worker should know. If you are injured at work, follow these simple tips, and in most cases (I pause and emphasize most!) your worker’s compensation claim will run smoothly ensuring you receive the maximum benefits you are entitled to under the law.
So lets jump in…
- Emergency Care. If your injury requires emergency care, always get the necessary treatment first and foremost. You do not have to receive authorization from your employer prior to receiving emergency care.
- Notice. NOTICE, NOTICE, NOTICE. In case I wasn’t clear, notice is critical. The law requires you to notify your employer in writing within 15 days of the time you know or should have known you suffered a work-related injury. Typically, this is accomplished by the worker completing a Notice of Accident (NOA) form (form 52-1-29 NMSA). This form should be posted at your workplace. If not, ask your employer for one, or contact your local WCA office. The NOA form is a report by the worker notifying your employer that an accident has occurred at work, and states the date, and a general description of the accident. If a NOA form is not available, at the very least, talk to your supervisor and give notice of the accident orally, making clear that you were injured at work, and the circumstances surrounding the accident. This is the biggest mistake injured workers make– failure to properly give notice.
- Selection of Health Care Provider (HCP). Once you have given notice, wait for you employer (or their workers’ compensation insurer) to instruct you as to which doctor they have authorized you to see. In some circumstances, your employer may allow you to choose your doctor. In either situation, that selected doctor will be considered an authorized health care provider. It is imperative that you do not seek medical attention from an unauthorized health care provider, as this will only create problems. Additionally, once the treating physician is selected, do not change unless you are authorized to do so by your employer/insurer.
- Doctor’s Report. Your authorized HCP should give you instructions concerning your ability to return to work. In some situations, you may require days or even weeks off. In others, you might get a full release to return to work, or even a release to return but with restrictions. Regardless, you must provide your employer with a report indicating the doctor’s recommendations on return to work.
- Return to Work. It is critical that you follow your treating physicians recommendations, including complying with any restrictions. However, as a goal, you should always seek to return to work as soon as possible, as you will always earn more income working, than you will earn in worker’s compensation benefits.
- Good Communication. If your injury requires time off from work, it is always a good idea to stay in good communication with your employer. Make sure your employer has proper documentation from your physician if you are required to take time off. Do not just not show up and assume they know you are hurt! Additionally, check in occasionally and make sure your employer is updated as to your condition and plans to return to work. Often times, workers fail to communicate effectively with their employers concerning their condition, which can lead to problems including loss of employment.
Obviously, this list is greatly simplified, and there can always be other factors that must be considered. But for the most part, an injured worker who follows these guidelines will ensure his/her claim will not be denied due to failure to comply with the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act.