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Know your benefits
Workers’ Compensation can provide valuable benefits if you are a paraprofessional, school nurse or occupational or physical therapist and have a work-related injury or occupational illness.
Schools should provide a safe and healthy work environment. If you are hurt on the job, there are certain procedures you should follow to ensure that you get all the benefits you are entitled to. The UFT is dedicated to guiding injured members through the process, so it’s important to contact your union in the event of an injury.
If you are a full-time or part-time paraprofessional, school nurse or occupational or physical therapist and you are injured or made sick on the job, you should file for Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ Comp is a form of insurance already paid for by the Department of Education that entitles you to full medical coverage and a portion of any lost salary due to job-related injuries and occupational illnesses. (Pedagogues — teachers, guidance counselors, school secretaries, psychologists, social workers and lab specialists — are covered by the Injury-in-the-Line-of-Duty provision of the contract, not by Workers’ Comp.)
The basic benefits
Workers’ Comp benefits include:
- all medical expenses, even if you do not lose any time from work, including transportation to the doctor’s office, medications, braces, etc.;
- up to $772.96 per week for total disability if you are out of work for more than seven days (not necessarily consecutive); and
- additional money if you have permanent damage to a limb, or facial scars, or loss of hearing or eyesight.
If you use up days in your sick bank (CAR) because of your injury, you may be able to get them reimbursed when you file for Workers’ Comp.
You are entitled to Workers’ Comp no matter who is at fault for the injury/illness as long as you were on school property or were performing your normal work duties. The only exceptions are when the injury is due solely to intoxication from alcohol or a controlled substance or you willfully injured yourself or were hurt while trying to injure someone else.
Even though the DOE requires that all accidents be reported within 24 hours, under New York State law you have 30 days to notify your employer of an on-the-job accident or injury. The legal time limit to file a claim is two years from the date of the accident or illness. It is in your interest to file a claim as soon as possible.
It’s important to file for Workers’ Comp when you are first injured or as soon as you realize your injury or illness is work-related. That is because your injury (especially in the case of back injuries) may recur and, if your case wasn’t established the first time, you may have difficulty getting benefits.
If the DOE or the school doesn’t want to take your report because it is past the initial 24 hours, call the Workers’ Compensation Project at the UFT at 1-212-510-6460 for assistance.
You can also file a Workers’ Comp claim for an occupational illness, such as a repetitive strain injury, which is a medical condition that develops over a long period of time and is caused by the nature of the work you perform. Examples include tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain and varicose veins.
Filing a claim
When you are hurt on the job, you should immediately report the injury, accident or illness to your supervisor and fill out a DOE comprehensive accident/injury report and, in the case of an assault or other safety incident, a DOE incident report.
The employer is required to notify Workers’ Comp within 10 days of the injury by submitting a Workers’ Comp C-2 form.
Even if you do not lose any days from work because of your injury or illness, you should nevertheless tell your chapter leader and contact the Workers’ Compensation Project at the UFT (1-212-510-6460). A union safety and health associate will guide you through the whole process and can refer you to doctors and lawyers.
To start a Workers’ Comp claim, you’ll need to fill out a C-3 form, available on the UFT website at www.uft.org/our-rights/workers-compensation. Filling out a DOE injury or incident report does not constitute filing a claim.
You can file a Workers’ Comp claim on your own, but it’s a good idea to have legal representation since it’s a complicated process and your claim could be contested (the technical term is “controverted”).
The UFT has an arrangement with a large, reputable Workers’ Comp legal firm whose lawyers can give you advice regarding your claim and help you fill out the C-3 form.
You do not need to pay a lawyer’s fee unless you win your case. The fee (which is fixed by the Workers’ Comp board) will be paid to your lawyer out of your award.
See a Workers’ Comp-authorized MD
You also need to see a Workers’ Comp-authorized occupational doctor as soon as possible or, if it is an emergency, go to a hospital emergency room. Make sure to tell the doctor seeing you that your problem is work-related.
The physician must fill out and submit the Workers’ Comp C-4 form. It’s important to see an authorized provider because these doctors know the ins and outs of the system, can complete and submit the C-4 form and are key to both improving your health and getting your benefits. Ask your doctor to mail a copy of the completed C-4 form to you.
Prompt filing of these forms will move your case along faster. Keep a copy of every form for your personal records.
Don’t throw out anything — letters, medical records, bills, travel expenses to and from your doctor — that relates to your case.
Consult the UFT or your Workers’ Comp attorney before applying for other benefits such as disability or unemployment insurance.
Leaves of absence
Any employee who is disabled due to an injury that is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Law is entitled to a cumulative leave of absence, while actually disabled, for a period of one year — or, if disabled due to an assault on the job, for a period of two years unless you are found to be permanently disabled from performing the duties of the job.
You may not be invited to return to work upon expiration of the leave or upon a finding of permanent inability to perform the job duties. However, you have the right to a hearing to challenge a refusal to permit return to duty or a proposed discharge upon exhaustion of leave or finding of permanent disability.
After such a discharge, you may apply within one year of recovery for reinstatement to your former job or a similar job for which you are qualified. If you are found fit to perform the duties of your former position but no appropriate vacancy exists, or if the workload does not warrant filling such a vacancy, your name will be placed upon a preferred list.
For further information visit the UFT Workers’ Comp section online at www.uft.org/our-rights/workers-compensation.