Workers’ compensation in Alabama is a mandatory insurance program designed to compensate injured workers for medical care, lost wages, and permanent disabilities. Employees who are involved in workplace accidents or who suffer from occupational diseases (such as asbestosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos) are eligible for benefits.
In Alabama, private businesses with five or more employees (full-time or part-time) must provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. However, this rule does not apply to employers of:
Generally, these types of employees have to pursue other means of recovering for their work-related injuries. Alabama state government employees are normally covered through the State Employee Injury Compensation Trust Fund, administered by the Alabama Division of Risk Management, while federal government employees are covered under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. All other exempt employees are entitled to file civil lawsuits against their employers – but must prove fault on the part of their employer.
In general, you must report any workplace accident or potential occupational disease to your employer within five days (although failure to do so is excusable in some circumstances). If you fail to give your employer notice within 90 days of your injury, though, you risk losing your right to workers’ comp benefits. If your supervisor witnessed your accident, or a coworker told your supervisor about your accident, this will probably qualify as notice. However, you should never assume that your employer knows about your injury. The best practice is to report your injury to your supervisor right away.
Once you’ve given notice of your injury, your employer (or its insurance company) must complete and file a form called a First Report of Injury with the Alabama Department of Labor.
In the event of an emergency, you should seek medical care immediately and tell the doctor that you have sustained a job-related injury. In emergency circumstances, you can choose which health care provider to seek treatment from.
For all non-emergency care, Alabama has specific rules that allow your employer and its insurer to control your medical treatment for work-related injuries. Your employer, or its insurance company, may select your initial treating doctor for you when you report your claim.
After your initial treatment, if you are not satisfied with the doctor selected by your employer, you can notify your employer in writing. The insurance company must provide you with a list of at least four other doctors from which you can choose.
The insurance company is responsible for covering all reasonably necessary medical care related to your workplace injury. This may include doctors’ visits, hospital stays, physical therapy, and diagnostic studies, such as x-rays. The insurer must also reimburse you for your mileage incurred in traveling to medical appointments; the 2014 rate is $0.56 per mile.
If you were involved in a workplace accident, your employer may require that you submit to a blood or urine test for drugs or alcohol. If you refuse to cooperate, you may lose your right to workers’ comp benefits.
If your doctor determines that you are completely unable to work for more than three days due to your injury, you are eligible for temporary total disability (TTD) payments for lost wages. The amount you will receive is two-thirds of your average weekly wage, subject to a maximum amount set by law each year. As of July 1, 2016, the maximum weekly benefit is $832.
TTD benefits will continue to be paid as long as the doctor finds that you cannot return to work but have not reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), which is the point where your doctor does not expect your condition to improve in the next year or so.
Your doctor may allow you to return to work while you are still recovering. The doctor may limit the type of work, or the amount of work, to that which is medically appropriate. If your doctor allows you to return to part-time or modified work, and your employer offers you such work, you must accept it. However, if your earnings are lower than what you previously made, you may be entitled to temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits.
If your pay for part-time or modified work is less than your pre-injury earnings, TPD payments are two-thirds of the difference in your earnings, subject to the same maximum mentioned above. TPD is available until your doctor finds that you have reached MMI or for a period of up to 300 weeks, whichever occurs earlier.
For a permanent and total disability, where you cannot return to your job, nor obtain other reasonably gainful employment, you will receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $832 per week (as of July 1, 2016). There is no time limit on temporary total disability benefits; they are paid out for the remainder of the worker’s life. Benefits are paid at the same frequency as your wages were paid (weekly, monthly, or otherwise) or in a lump sum, if you and the insurer agree.
Permanent partial disability benefits are two-thirds of your average weekly wages, but cannot be more than $220 per week. The total amount you will receive depends on the injured body part and the disability rating assigned by your doctor.
If your injury is a "scheduled injury" (meaning it falls within a list of injuries included in a state schedule), you will receive benefits for the number of weeks stated in the schedule. For example, the schedule lists the total loss of use of a leg at 200 weeks. If you have a 10% impairment, you will receive benefits for 20 weeks. You would then multiply this number by the maximum $220 per week (or two-thirds of your average weekly wage, if less), for a total of $4,440.
If your injury is not on the state schedule, you can receive an "unscheduled" award. The benefit is two-thirds of your average weekly wage, multiplied by the percentage of impairment. You will receive benefits for 300 weeks, minus the number of weeks for which you've already received TTD benefits.
Example: Your average weekly wage before the accident was $900 and you have a 10% impairment to the body as a whole. You will receive two-thirds of $900, which is $600--multiplied by 10%, which is $60 per week. If you've already received 30 weeks of TTD, you will receive 270 weeks of benefits (300-30). You would then multiply 270 weeks by $60, to get $16,200.
If you and the insurance company are in a dispute about what treatment you are authorized to receive, you may contact the Alabama Department of Labor’s Workers’ Compensation Division. The Workers’ Compensation Division provides assistance with medical disputes only. For all other issues, such as the denial of your claim or certain benefits, you will need to file a civil lawsuit in state court.
In general, you have only two years from the date of your accident to file a lawsuit if your claim remains denied. However, if you received some disability payments (temporary or permanent), you have two years from the date of your last temporary or permanent disability payment to file a civil lawsuit.
Learn more about Appealing an Alabama Workers' Comp Denial.