You cannot waive workers’ compensation rights in most situations. Typically, it is illegal for an employer to require workers to sign releases waiving their rights to benefits under the workers’ compensation program in California. Even if a person signs such a waiver, the document might not be enforceable.
KJT Law Group advocates for workers’ compensation claimants. If you’re worried about receiving benefits after suffering an on-the-job injury, call us, and we can discuss your legal rights.
You Generally Can’t Waive Your Workers’ Compensation Rights
Employers often require new employees to sign a stack of paperwork on their first day of work. Imagine taking a closer look at these documents that evening at home, when you discover that you signed a waiver of your rights to workers’ compensation benefits.
The HR person did not mention the waiver at the time of signing. You did not notice the brief waiver paragraph that was buried within a bunch of legalese in some general document that focused on other things, like employee rules and policies.
California law requires that waivers be clear and not misleading. The waiver must express the intent of the parties, and a hidden waiver does not express the intent of both the worker and the employer. An inadvertent or unintentional waiver of rights could get challenged as unenforceable.
An Exception to Opting Out of Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Although it is illegal for an employer to require employees to sign a waiver of their rights under workers’ compensation, members of the board of directors and executive officers/owners of a wholly owned corporation can waive these rights under certain circumstances, under California Labor Code § 3352(a)(19).
The board member, officer, or owner waiving their rights would have to have a comparable disability policy and employee health benefits to execute a valid waiver. Usually, the available disability policy is not comparable, leaving the waiver deficient.
What to Know About Forced Waivers During the Pandemic
Some companies required workers to come to the workplace in person during the COVID-19 pandemic and sign waivers that they would not file workers’ compensation claims if they got sick. The waivers were a condition of employment, along with being physically present at the office.
Most likely, those waivers were unenforceable and even illegal. You could talk to a lawyer if you caught COVID-19 (or another job-related illness) after signing a waiver of workers’ compensation rights.
You Have Options if Your Employer Doesn’t Have Workers’ Comp Insurance
Per the California Department of Human Resources, every employee is entitled to workers’ compensation coverage, even if they work seasonally or part-time. Your employer may have asked you to waive your rights so they wouldn’t have to carry coverage. Again, this is not allowed in most situations and would not let your employer skirt the law.
If your employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation coverage, your lawyer can explore the possibility of filing a lawsuit. Employers who carry workers’ compensation coverage have protections against litigation. Those who do not carry coverage do not have that immunity. A lawyer from KJT Law Group can explain more.
You Have Rights as a Workers’ Compensation Claimant in California
As an injured worker, you have these rights:
You Can Pursue Benefits
The California workers’ compensation program provides multiple benefits for employees who get hurt or sick because of their job. According to the Department of Industrial Relations, the primary categories of workers’ compensation benefits in our state include the following:
- Medical care. Usually, you will have to get your non-emergency treatment from a healthcare provider in your employer’s approved network. The provider should not bill you or charge a co-pay or deductible if you are there for a job-related condition.
- Temporary total disability. If you cannot work at all while recuperating, workers’ compensation could send you checks to help replace some of your lost wages. Usually, this benefit equals two-thirds of your gross (pre-tax) regular wages.
- Temporary partial disability. When a person returns to work with restrictions like light duty or limited hours, they might not make as much income as before. This benefit could help replace two-thirds of the difference for the employee.
- Permanent disability. Eventually, the injured worker reaches the maximum level of improvement the doctor expects. If the employee does not recuperate 100 percent, the physician can assign a disability rating that could range from 0 to 100 percent. The worker can then receive compensation based on their rating and their regular wages, as well as other factors.
- Job retraining. If a worker does not go back to work for their boss, they might get vouchers that can help to pay for education or job skills training.
- Death benefits. The eligible dependents, like a spouse or children, could receive benefits if the employee died from their work-related illness or injury.
Although these benefits sound straightforward, sometimes, there are disputes about wage calculation, medical treatment, disability ratings, or other issues. If problems with your case arise, again, you could benefit from partnering with a lawyer.
You Have the Right to a Safe Workplace
As an employee, your rights are more than your right to compensation. They also include the right to work in a reasonably safe environment. For instance, if you work in a department store, the store should be free of hazards. Some workplaces are inherently dangerous, like if you work on a construction site. Still, you’re guaranteed a reasonable level of safety, given the circumstances.
You Can Pursue Benefits Free of Retaliation
Your employer cannot fire you simply for pursuing workers’ compensation benefits. This would be illegal. Yet, your employer can fire you for another factor, such as poor performance. If you’re worried about getting fired while seeking workers’ compensation benefits, you have options. One of those options involves partnering with an attorney from our firm.
Begin Your Free Case Review With KJT Law Group
Waivers of rights and related issues can get confusing. If your employer asked you to sign a waiver of your right to workers’ compensation benefits (or you suffered an on-the-job injury), consider consulting an attorney. You can talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer at KJT Law Group. Call us at (818) 507-8525 to get started.