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What is workers’ compensation?

Every state has passed workers’ compensation laws that provide benefits to employees injured at work. These laws have a variety of names, such as workers’ compensation, workman’s compensation, worker’s compensation, or work comp. These laws require that employees suffering on-the-job injuries receive compensation to replace lost wages and cover medical expenses. Most state laws provide that employers must either carry insurance through a private carrier or show that they can self-insure against claims by workers injured on the job. Other states provide that employers must pay into a state workers’ compensation fund.

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. No matter what caused the injury – worker’s negligence, employer’s negligence, or a combination of the two – workers injured on the job receive benefits under the law.

For the most part, states, rather than the federal government, regulate workers’ compensation. However, some workers, such as maritime and railroad workers, are covered by federal, rather than state law. Because of its interstate nature and because of the upsurge in claims in the late 1960s and early 1970s arising from black lung disease, the United States Congress passed legislation providing for compensation to coal field workers suffering from the disease. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) covers on-the-job injuries sustained by federal employees.


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