I Didn’t Know About Worker’s Comp Until a Lizard Bit Me

Learn about your workers' comp rights--before it's too late

As summer gave way to fall, Wal-Mart transformed over the course of a few days. Beach towels and boogie boards gave way to pencils, folders and backpacks. Overnight, I got reassigned from the garden section to grocery. The change proved disastrous, or at least comical.

 

(Image: iStock/prill)

 

A mere 10 minutes into my shift, I reached under some shelving to grab a small piece of trash. All at once, a sharp pain ran through my hand, and the tip of my finger became numb. “Owww!” I yelped. Whipping my head around, I caught site of the culprit. A black-and-yellow lizard darted out of the risers.

Jerome, my shift manager, screamed like a little girl. He grabbed boxes and tried to trap the lizard. In a panic I reached down for the lizard and picked it up with my bare hands. The lizard writhed in my hands, and I threw it in the nearest trash can.

“That lizard tried to eat you,” Jerome said. My heart was beating out of my chest, but I said, “It’s really no big deal.” The lizard was no more than eight inches long if you excluded its tail.

Jerome sent me to our HR representative to fill out a first report of injury. “Won’t that end the 375-days-without-injury streak?” I asked. “I would rather forgo some ice cream than have you die from lizard poison,” he said.

I walked to the HR office. Over the intercom I heard Jerome say, “We have a lizard situation in the trash can on aisle 24.”

In the office the HR representative had me fill out the report. She asked me if I needed to visit urgent care. I told her that I wasn’t too worried. She went on to explain my right to workers’ compensation insurance: “I’m serious. If you need medical attention, Wal-Mart will pay. That’s your right, you know.”

I assured her that I was fine, and I went back to work. Still, I felt thankful that my employer took the time to explain my rights.

Small Businesses & Workers’ Comp

Workers’ comp is part of a suite of business insurance coverages you may want to consider depending on your business and how many workers you employ. By law, employers who employ five or more workers are required to buy workers’ comp insurance, with the major exception of farm owners. It covers medical care for injuries or illnesses caused at work, and replaces income those employees lose if they must miss work. It also helps you protect your business from lawsuits by injured employees who may seek damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish. 

Workers’ comp also covers retraining costs and compensation for permanent injuries. It even provides a death benefit should an employee die on the job. It’s not health insurance, though, and it isn’t disability or life insurance. 

As an employer, you’re also responsible for informing employees that you are covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

Large companies train managers on how to handle potential workers’ compensation claims. This ensures that employees get the medical coverage that they need. 

An Employee’s Perspective on Not Having Coverage

I’m not the type who wants to forgo any legal rights, but workers’ comp insurance seems to favor employees. I certainly prefer the push for workers’ comp after the treatment that I got at my first job.

As a high school junior and senior, I worked at a small Italian restaurant. The restaurant was owned by the most stereotypically Italian grandparents you could think of. Giuseppe and Maria bickered constantly in the kitchen, but they made the most delicious … everything. Only a dozen people worked at the restaurant, and we all pretended to be Italian.

One night a couple came in just minutes before closing. I seated them and took their order right away. The cook rushed through their order and had their food ready in just seven minutes. I grabbed the plates, but I noticed that the marinara sauce was missing. I told the cook to sauce the plate. He whipped around with a ladle full of steaming marinara and poured it all over the food and my arm. Tomatoes and olive oil seared my skin.

Holding in a scream of pain, I set down the plates and ran my arm under cold water. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” the cook said over and over.

Meanwhile, our manager cleaned the plates and took them out to the waiting customers. She helped me make an ice bag and sent me home with some burn cream. She didn’t suggest a trip to urgent care; she didn’t fill out a form to document the incident.

I had the right to medical attention, but my manager didn’t mention it. To be honest, I don’t think my manager or I knew about workers’ comp. Her job was to run the restaurant, not to deal with workers’ comp.

Knowing what I know now, in a similar situation, I would ask my manager to type up and sign an incident report so that, if I sought medical attention, the company would compensate me for it later.

Small employers have most of the same rights as larger employers. However, small employers aren’t likely as familiar with compliance, which can wind up hurting both the business owner and the employee. That’s why it’s important to get informed, provide employees with the information they need and provide them with the tools they need to make informed decisions.

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This article originally appeared on Nav.com.