RSI Handbook: Your legal rights
OSHA Standards and Inspections
OSHA (part of the U. S. Department of Labor) sets minimum standards governing workplace safety and health conditions. These standards cover machine guarding, materials handling, noise, chemicals, exits, and other hazards, except for ergonomic hazards. To date there is no standard that covers ergonomic hazards.
But the Occupational Safety and Health Act does give workers the right to a workplace "free from recognized hazards." Dangers not regulated by current standards are still covered by OSHA's "general duty clause." If you feel your workplace is unsafe, you can call for an OSHA inspection, and your employer may be required to take corrective action. Ask your local Association or UniServ representative for guidance.
How does the workers' compensation system work?
In most states, workers' compensation laws require employers to carry insurance that pays full medical costs, and usually 2/3 of lost wages, for workers with job-related injuries or illnesses. Workers' compensation laws usually also require "rehabilitation" services for disabled workers, and death benefits for fatal injuries.
It is a "no-fault" system. This means employers cannot deny benefits by claiming that the injury was caused by the worker. Employers usually also cannot deny benefits because an old injury/illness may have contributed to a new injury. The employer takes an employee "as is" and usually must pay compensation even if the job aggravates a pre-existing injury or illness or if workers re-injure themselves.
What should you do if you develop injuries or illnesses on the job?
- Tell your supervisor as soon as possible.
- Get medical attention immediately and document it.
- Inform your employer in writing about the injury or illness. (NOTE: There are deadlines in each state for giving notice to your employer.)
- File a claim with the state compensation agency.
- Ask the state compensation agency for a hearing if the employer -- or the employer's insurance company -- refuses or fails to pay workers' compensation that the state agency has determined you are owed. In complicated occupational illness cases, you may need a lawyer to protect your rights.
Who pays for workers' compensation?
The employer pays all the costs of workers' compensation benefits. Sometimes these costs are large—even greater than the costs for regular health insurance.
Association leaders and health and safety committees can show employers that the best way to reduce workers' compensation costs is to become aware of how employee health can be affected by working conditions or equipment. If the administration cooperates, a joint ESP/employer committee can make an ergonomics program into a economic "win-win" for both the school district and the Association, where the district saves money and the Association improves members' job safety and security.
Your Association can help
Use your state or local Association as a resource for questions about workers' compensation. Your Association should have information about your state's compensation laws and benefits, as well as a list of telephone numbers for the nearest workers' compensation office, union-friendly lawyers and doctors, and any other related information.