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Know your rights as an employee | 2 Wants to Know

Two legal experts answer questions about workplace issues and workers' compensation

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Many are starting to return back to work after working remotely for over a year. 

Being back in the office is going to look different, or maybe some are searching for a job because their hours were cut during the pandemic. 

To help answer those questions, Attorneys Nicole Patino and Barry Jennings join 2 Wants to Know.

Did the American Rescue Plan of 2021 impact COBRA? 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provides for a 100% subsidy for COBRA premiums for eligible employees, including those who were involuntarily terminated, or who experienced a reduction in hours, as well as their covered dependents from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.

Are there any conversations I should avoid when I return to my job? 

Avoid discussions of race, religion, disability, etc. at work. Attorney Nicole Patino says she has seen a sharp increase in the number of employees who have been accused of race and religious discrimination when they adamantly deny intent to harass or discriminate.

If I get fired from my job, what are my rights? 

Employees have a right to know what information an employer provides upon the termination of their employment.

How do I file for workers' compensation?

If you have been injured on the job, the first step is to notify your employer immediately and seek appropriate medical treatment. If your employer has on-site medical providers, they may want you to be evaluated there first. Your employer may also direct you to a specific medical provider and you should seek treatment there. Also, make sure to inform the medical provider how your injury occurred.

You should make sure your supervisor, manager or owner of the company is aware of your injury as soon as possible. It is best to notify them in writing of your injury. North Carolina law requires an injured worker to notify their employer of their work related injury within 30 days of the injury occurring. If you have had an injury but did not notify your employer within 30 days, there are sometimes special exceptions to this requirement.

North Carolina law also requires an injured worker to file a special form notifying the employer and the North Carolina Industrial Commission of the claim within 2 years of the date the injury occurred. This document is called a Form 18 and information about it and how to properly file it can be found on the North Carolina Industrial Commission website. If this form is not filed within the two-year timeframe, an injured worker's claim can potentially be barred.

What benefits does workers' compensation cover?

North Carolina workers compensation law provides two types of benefits to an injured worker. Generally speaking, the law requires an employer (or their insurance carrier) to 1) pay for medical expenses and 2) pay a form of wage replacement called indemnity benefits. The law requires an employer to pay these benefits if they accept responsibility for the claim. Sometimes, an employer will pay medical expenses even if they eventually choose to deny responsibility for the claim.

If an employer agrees to accept responsibility, they are responsible for all medical treatment that is related to the injury. This includes 100% of the cost of the medical expenses. This differs from private health insurance where an individual has some responsibility for paying costs out-of-pocket. When an employer is paying for medical treatment they usually direct the treatment to specific medical providers.

If an injury causes a worker to miss more than seven days from work, the worker can be entitled to wage replacement benefits. These benefits are usually worth two thirds of an injured worker’s average weekly gross pay. These benefits are generally paid until an injured worker is able to return to work. But, there are specific time limits in the law as to how long these benefits are available.

Should I take the workers' compensation settlement offer? 

An employer (or their insurance carrier) will sometimes reach out to an injured worker who is receiving workers compensation benefits and ask whether the worker is interested in settling their claim. Most employers/insurance carriers making these requests are asking the worker to close the claim in its entirety. Agreeing to a settlement can have serious consequences that should be contemplated fully by an injured worker

A settlement generally means that the insurance carrier is going to stop paying for all future medical treatment. Additionally, if an injured workers ends up needing more treatment down the road they will not be able get the employer/insurance to pay for that treatment even if it is related to the injury. An injured worker should consider how they are going to obtain future medical treatment if they are considering settling their case.

Additionally, a settlement usually means that the employer/insurance carrier is going to stop paying indemnity benefits. If an injured worker has not been able to return to work thought should be given to how long that could take before resolving a settlement offer is accepted. The workers’ compensation law has benefits potentially available to injured workers who cannot return to their preinjury line of work. A settlement usually means that the workers claim for those benefits stops.