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How does workers’ compensation work in Colorado?

Workers’ compensation is a state-run insurance system managed by the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, which is based in Denver. The crux of the law, known as the “Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado,” can be found in Title 8, Articles 40-47.

In short, workers’ compensation guarantees financial compensation for medical bills and lost wages caused by a work-related injury or illness. Workers’ comp is a no-fault system, meaning injured workers can receive benefits regardless of who or what caused their injury—so long as the injury or illness occurred in the course and scope of employment.

Workers’ comp differs from unemployment benefits in that a worker must have been injured on the job (or been diagnosed with an occupational illness) in order to collect workers’ comp benefits. Unemployment benefits, on the other hand, are provided to workers who aren’t necessarily injured but lost their job due to no fault of their own.

What is the purpose of workers’ compensation in Colorado?

The purpose of the Act is to:

“…assure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost to employers, without the necessity of any litigation, recognizing that the workers’ compensation system in Colorado is based on a mutual renunciation of common law rights and defenses by employers and employees alike.”

The modern workers’ compensation system is sometimes referred to as the “Grand Bargain” between workers and employers. This is because both parties benefit the system, but at a cost.

Employees benefit because the no-fault system is designed to expedite the process of obtaining compensation. Employers, companies and insurers benefit because workers’ compensation is an “exclusive remedy,” meaning that injured workers generally can’t sue their employer if they’re covered by workers’ comp.

What should I do if I’m hurt at work?

According to the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, you should take the following steps after suffering a work-related injury, illness or other medical condition:

How long do I have to file a workers’ compensation claim?

The “statute of limitations” is the time period within which a workers’ comp claim must be filed and it varies by state.

Here in Colorado, an injured worker must report their injury to their employer immediately, but no later than 4 days. Then, they must file a claim as soon as possible, but no later than 2 years after the injury. In certain cases, judges may grant an extension, but this is rare.

Review the chart below (provided by the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment) for more information:

What benefits does workers’ comp provide?

In the event of a worker injury or illness, workers’ compensation can provide financial assistance to help cover the injured worker’s:

In the event of a worker’s death, their surviving dependents may receive payments for lost wages every 2 weeks, as well as up to $7,000 for funeral and burial costs. These death benefits will be paid until the surviving spouse dies or remarries, and dependent children will receive compensation until their 18th birthday (or 21st birthday if they are full-time students). If there is no surviving spouse or child, other relatives such as a parent, grandparent, sister or brother may be eligible for partial benefits.

While workers’ compensation benefits are not taxable, they may be subject to certain offsets if you are receiving financial assistance through any other government program such as unemployment, Social Security or short-term disability provided by your employer—or if you must pay child support.

Furthermore, your benefits may be reduced if you failed a drug test or violated a safety rule.

If the doctor your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier sent you to draw a conclusion you feel will not adequately address your injuries, there IS a mechanism to make a change… albeit not quite as simple as changing your family doctor.

What if my employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation?

With few exceptions, all private and public employers in Colorado are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they have more than 1 employee. If they fail to meet this requirement, then they may face disciplinary action such as fines and the injured worker may be able to pursue legal action against them.

Even if your employer is uninsured, you should still file a workers’ compensation claim with the CO Department of Labor & Employment by submitting form WC15 as you may be eligible for benefits through the Colorado Uninsured Employer Fund.

What’s the average payout for workers’ compensation?

While the Division of Workers’ Compensation has an online Benefits Calculator to help injured workers understand how much compensation they might be owed, it’s important to realize that this tool (and others like it) can’t guarantee what benefits you may receive. This is because workers’ compensation awards and settlements can vary greatly depending on the unique factors of each case.

For example, a minor case of whiplash from a work-related car accident may require little treatment and heal in time, costing the injured worker just a few hundred dollars in the end. In contrast, a traumatic brain injury from falling off scaffolding can require months of intensive medical treatment and therapy to recover, if recovery is even possible at all. Such cases frequently add up to hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars in medical care, lost wages and permanent disability.

In short, you should be skeptical of attorneys who give you an “estimate” of how much your case is worth without meeting with you to understand the details and nuances of your case.

A few related questions our workers’ comp attorneys frequently get asked during the course of settlement negotiation and mediation of a workers’ compensation case is:

The short answer to all of these questions is no.

Can I quit my job while on workers’ compensation in Colorado?

Yes, you can quit your job at any time in Colorado—even after you suffer a work injury and are receiving benefits. Also, Colorado workers are protected from being fired because they filed a workers’ compensation claim.

However, it’s important to understand how quitting your job might affect your workers’ compensation benefits. For example, your lost wage payments may be stopped, which is why you should consult with your attorney before quitting.

Why do employers fight workers’ comp claims?

Even when workers have legitimate reasons to file a workers’ compensation claim, they often face roadblocks put up by their employer. Perhaps your employer wishes to avoid having their insurance premiums increase, or maybe they don’t want the company to get a bad reputation as an unsafe workplace.

Whatever their reason, don’t let your employer intimidate you or talk you out of filing a workers’ compensation claim. It’s your right to seek financial reimbursement in the event of a workplace injury or illness, and the workers’ compensation system—though not perfect—is designed to protect this right.

This content was originally published here.