Washington workers' comp laws were passed in 1911 to require coverage for the most dangerous jobs of the time. The current version of these laws protects the rights of injured workers and those who have suffered occupational diseases.
The state’s Department of Labor & Industries — typically referred to as L&I — has also established related rules and guidelines. It requires employers to put up instructions on what workers should do after incurring a work injury. It also has a channel to receive complaints against employers preventing their workers from submitting a claim.
The data from 2022 proved that these workers’ compensation laws and regulations were mostly effective and benefited employees; over 85,000 had their claims granted, and a total of $2.46 billion in benefits were distributed.
If you also want to file a workers’ compensation claim so you can focus on your recovery, the details that you need are laid out in this article. It discusses how your employer’s insurance can shoulder the costs associated with your injury or illness. Moreover, it provides various resources that can assist you throughout the process.
Washington State Workers’ Compensation Insurance Requirements
State law defines an employer as a person or entity that engages in business, or that enlists the labor of at least one worker. Meanwhile, a worker is a person hired by an employer to perform labor. For the purpose of this article, the terms “worker” and “employee” are used interchangeably. The same goes for “employer” and “business.”
Employers in Washington State with one or more full-time or part-time workers are required to purchase workers' compensation insurance. However, there are several categories of workers exempted from automatic coverage, including:
Gardeners, technicians, and maintenance workers in a private residence;
Entertainers or musicians hired for a single performance;
Because Washington State has a monopolistic workers’ compensation program, most employers are only allowed to obtain coverage for their employees through a public state fund. If they want an employer's liability coverage, they have to buy it separately from a private insurer.
Businesses with assets worth $25 million or more and certain government agencies may also opt for self-insurance instead of the state-funded one.
There are certain worker classifications governed by specific workers’ compensation rules. Some of these involve the following:
Minors: Minor workers should be covered by their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance unless they were hired by their parents to work on their family farm.
Independent contractors: Coverage is not required for independent contractors performing a service unrelated to their employer’s business. One example is a writing instructor handling a workshop on business writing for the employees of an accounting firm.
Out-of-state workers: Washington employees performing work duties in another state for less than 31 days within a year should be included in their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance plan.
Truck drivers: Interstate or overseas trucking firms are required to provide coverage for their Washington drivers; it does not matter if their workers’ compensation insurance is purchased in Washington or another state. Meanwhile, the Washington-based drivers of intrastate trucking businesses should be covered in Washington.
Professional and semi-professional athletes: Pro and semi-pro athletes in Washington should be covered in Washington unless they are insured and regularly play in another state.
Unpaid students and student interns: Optional or elective coverage may be provided for unpaid students and student interns performing work duties for a school activity or program.
Penalties for Non-compliance
Summarized in the table below are the fines employers face if they do not abide by the workers’ compensation insurance laws spelled out in the Revised Code of Washington.
Not paying a worker’s insurance premiums prior to an injury or illness (RCW 51.48.010)
$1,000 or double the incurred premiums’ amount
Delaying or not paying the benefits due to a worker (RCW 51.48.017)
$1,000 or 25% of the benefits due, whichever is higher
Not keeping records and not creating reports (RCW 51.48.030)
$500 (waivable for first-time or disregardable violations)
Not allowing L&I to inspect books, records, and payrolls (RCW 51.48.040)
Washington State Workers’ Compensation Benefits
According to L&I, there are several types of benefits a worker can claim to help them get back on their feet. Some benefits pay for the costs associated with a temporary injury or illness, while others cover the permanent effects of a work-related injury or disease.
Because the state’s workers’ compensation program is bound by a no-fault system, you should receive benefits for your work-related injury or occupational disease, no matter how it came about.
Short-Term Disability Benefits
Type of Benefits
Hospital, healthcare provider, and surgical services;
Until condition becomes stable and no additional recovery is anticipated
Wage replacement benefits or time-loss compensation
60% to 75% of gross income;
Additional benefits if married and with dependent children
As long as one is unable to get back to work, as confirmed by healthcare provider
Permanent Disability, Terminal Illness, and Survivor Benefits
As mandated by state law, one can also obtain other kinds of benefits and awards after suffering a permanent injury, illness, or loss.
Type of Benefits/Awards
Condition to Receive Benefits/Awards
Awards for permanent partial disabilities
Awards based on a specified disability (e.g., loss of hearing, loss of finger by amputation);
Awards based on a healthcare provider’s rating of an unspecified disability (e.g., loss of function of arm or leg)
If a worker has a specified or unspecified disability
Awards for total permanent disabilities
Monthly pension based on time-loss compensation
If a worker experiences total eyesight loss or total and permanent paralysis of at least one arm and one leg
Benefits during a terminal illness
Medical and hospice care
If a worker’s terminal illness or injury is work-related, as confirmed by their healthcare provider
Immediate cash payment;
If one’s spouse died due to a work-related illness or injury
Home and Motor Vehicle Modification Benefits
A worker may have to make changes to their home to help with their mobility, safety, and everyday activities after incurring a catastrophic work-related injury or disease. They may also have to make adjustments to their vehicle due to paralysis or amputation. One can request to have these modifications covered by their employer’s insurance provider.
How to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Washington State
Both you and your employer have particular responsibilities to fulfill during the claims process, and this section goes over these and other details so you can get the benefits that you are entitled to.
When is the Deadline for Workers’ Compensation Claims in Washington State?
For injuries suffered in the workplace or while performing work duties, a claim must be filed within a year. Meanwhile, there is a two-year deadline to submit a claim for illnesses or diseases contracted due to work.
A Step-By-Step Guide on Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Washington State
Outlined here are the steps you need to take for a smooth and successful workers’ compensation claim:
1. Visit a Doctor As Soon As Possible
Visit a medical provider for evaluation and treatment right away. Inform them that your injury or disease is work-related.
If your workers’ compensation insurance is state-funded, your medical provider must fill out and submit a Report of Accident form to L&I. You can also use FileFast or call 1-877-561-FILE (3453) to file a claim.
Meanwhile, if your employer is self-insured, your medical provider must fill out a Provider’s Initial Report and submit it to your employer.
You can see a doctor who was not included in the L&I Medical Provider Network during the first consultation. However, further treatments and care should be given by a provider on the list.
Keep in mind that you have the right to choose the medical provider that you want; you can say no if your employer wants you to see a different doctor.
It is also important to know that the result of your claim can hinge on this very first step. Delaying going to a medical professional may prolong your condition and cast doubt on whether you truly are injured or suffering from a disease. Moreover, as stated above, the period for filing a claim is limited.
When you submit a claim, your case will be assigned a claim number composed of two letters and five numbers (e.g., AB12345).
2. Report Your Injury or Illness to Your Employer
Tell your employer about your condition and let them know that you have filed a workers’ compensation claim. They should expect to receive some documents for processing from L&I.
If your employer is self-insured, they will receive the documents directly from your medical provider. They will also give you a Self‑Insurer Accident Report form that you must fill out.
3. Keep Tabs on Your Claim Status
There are various ways to know the status of your workers’ compensation claim. The most convenient method involves logging in to the Claim & Account Center. You may also contact the claim manager assigned to your case or call 800-831-5227 for automated updates.
If your employer is self-insured, you can directly go to your company’s claim representative.
In case there are details that you need to update — such as your address or medical provider — you can make the necessary changes through the Claim & Account Center.
L&I or your employer may also request other information or documents from you. It is important to respond on time to avoid having your claim denied.
4. Receive Your Benefits After Claim Approval
If your claim has been approved, you will receive all the benefits you are entitled to until your medical provider says that you have fully recovered. Check the “Washington State Workers’ Compensation Benefits” section above to know what kind of benefits to expect based on your specific condition.
5. Continue With Your Recovery
Follow your doctor’s orders as you continue to regain your health. If they give you the go-ahead, you may get back to work while still recovering. In this case, your employer should provide you with the necessary accommodations, such as making your workload lighter and giving you the training you may need for your new role.
6. Settle Your Claim
It may be possible to enter into a structured settlement agreement involving you, L&I, and your employer if you are 50 or older. All your benefits — except for future medical treatments — will be permanently resolved, and your claim will be closed. Settlements may be in the form of a lump sum or a pension. It can also be carried out through a claim resolution settlement agreement.
Structured settlement is typically pursued by eligible workers who have:
The capacity to go back to work;
No interest in completing a retraining program;
An open claim for time-loss compensation;
An alternative income source;
Because settling a claim is not just a work or government procedure — it also involves different legal processes — you will greatly benefit from the assistance of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in your area. They can inform you if you are eligible for this kind of arrangement and gauge if it is favorable for you or not.
What Should One Do If a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Washington State Is Denied?
Having your claim denied does not necessarily signify the end of the road for you. There are still several ways you may pursue compensation for your injury or illness.
One option is to send a protest within 60 days after a decision regarding your claim has been made. You can do so by logging in to the Claim & Account Center or mailing a letter addressed to:
Department of Labor & Industries
P.O. Box 44291
Olympia, WA 98504-4291
You may also file an appeal with the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.
In addition to a workers’ compensation claim, you may also file a lawsuit against a third party — someone apart from your employer or co-worker — if they are responsible for causing your on-the-job injury.
Some situations in which this applies include the following:
If you are a truck operator hit by a drunk driver;
If you slipped and fell in your office because the building owner did not take enough safety precautions;
If the tool you were using at work malfunctioned and caused your injury;
A third-party claim may be made on your own or through L&I. Either way, it is important to notify the department at the start of the claims process through your Report of Accident.
Crime Victims Compensation Claims
If someone’s gross misdemeanor or felony crime at work resulted in your injury or trauma, you may be eligible to receive a range of crime victim benefits worth up to $190,000. These include:
Medical, dental, and mental health treatment;
Crime Victims Compensation Program
Department of Labor & Industries
P.O. Box 44520
Olympia, WA 98504-4520
The loved ones of homicide victims may also apply for benefits through the program.
Legal Resources for Injured Workers in Washington State
Navigating the workers’ compensation claims process — on top of recuperating from your injury or illness — can be overwhelming. There are various forms to fill out, several tasks to complete, and many details to take note of. Thankfully, there are different Washington-specific resources you can check out at the click of a button:
Washington Law Help
Washington Law Help is a website maintained by the Northwest Justice Project. It provides its readers access to information relevant to their legal concerns, such as workers’ compensation. It also educates injured workers on the steps they should take in case they need to escalate a claim into a lawsuit. The site is available in English and Spanish.
Workers’ Compensation Guides for Spanish Speakers
In 2021, there were almost 250,000 Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency living in Washington State. In recognition of this growing population, many government resources and services have been translated into Spanish. These include the Guide to Workers’ Compensation Benefits and the Independent Medical Exam Guide, which injured workers and those suffering from occupational diseases may find useful.
Washington State Workers' Rights Manual
The Washington State Workers' Rights Manual provides a comprehensive discussion of various regulations and laws protecting the well-being of the state’s workforce. Those who have been injured or contracted a disease while performing work responsibilities can check if their employer violated any law that led to their current condition. The downloadable manual has English and Spanish versions.
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