Michigan Workers’ Comp Laws: Avoid Adding Insult to Injury

An employer guide to navigating Michigan workers’ compensation laws

By Lisa Stickler | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on August 3, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Frederick V. Livingston and Nicholas M. Risko

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Successful businesses focus on workplace safety, but accidents can happen in even the safest work environment. When they do, the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act is triggered.

“In Michigan, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system designed to provide benefits to injured workers, without regard to the negligence of the injured individual,” says Nick Risko, a workers’ comp attorney at Bleakley, Cypher, Parent, Warren & Quinn in Grand Rapids.

“The goal of the [workers’ compensation act] is to provide coverage, not to deny it,” says Fred Livingston, a litigator at Novara Law in Detroit. “The act is liberally construed to grant benefits.”

When an employee suffers a work-related injury, the first step is for them to report it. “Having a clear policy of reporting workplace injuries at their occurrence can help counteract late and tenuous claims,” says Risko.

Employers then investigate the injury, file a WC-100 form (Employer’s Basic Report of Injury) with the state agency, send the claim to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, and initiate a medical evaluation.

“Generally, the employee is sent to an occupational clinic [of the employer’s choosing] to be assessed,” says Risko. “Medical treatment will be rendered, and restrictions may or may not be imposed. The employer can direct medical care for 28 days.”

Livingston advises “roping off the affected area, taking photographs, and making sure there is no chance for anyone else to hurt themselves.” He also recommends collecting witness statements, retaining security footage, and, if warranted, performing an employee drug test.

Risk management and workplace safety strategies are the most important policies an employer can have. The more rules, the better.

Frederick V. Livingston

Potential Benefits Under Workers’ Compensation Coverage

Primary workers’ compensation benefits include wage loss and medical expenses.

While medical benefits “can begin immediately after injury, wage loss benefits begin on the eighth day after injury—and can last a lifetime,” says Livingston.

“If an employee still cannot return to work after 14 days, they can recoup the first seven days of wages,” says Risko. “Wage loss is paid at 80 percent of after-tax average weekly wages.”

Risko notes the act’s vocational rehabilitation component is rarely used. When applied, rehabilitation can include things such as new job training and education, says Livingston.

“The goal of vocational rehabilitation is to return the injured employee to the workforce. If they cannot work in their previous capacity, vocational rehabilitation can help them [prepare for] a suitable job,” he adds.

Having a clear policy of reporting workplace injuries at their occurrence can help counteract late and tenuous claims.

Nicholas M. Risko

Coverage Is Not Absolute: Know the Limitations

While the state workers’ compensation law is liberally construed, there are limits. Employee coverage exists only when the injury is work-related.

“Generally, injuries sustained while traveling to and from work are not compensable,” says Risko. That analysis can change if “travel is an integral part of the job.”

Similarly, if an employee is injured during a company bonding event outside the office, those activities are not compensable. “Something like a golf outing is not in the course or scope of your employment, so you will not be covered by the act,” says Livingston.

While not common, sometimes injuries incurred at home are falsely attributed to work. To eliminate deception, an employee seeking benefits must prove “work caused or significantly aggravated a pathological change resulting in a medically distinguishable condition,” says Risko. Or, in layman’s terms, “a claimant must show that work changed a structure in the body. Symptoms, by themselves, are not enough.”

Keep Records of Injuries and Workplace Misconduct

To keep things above board, Livingston advises employers “collect a medical history any time an injury occurs.”

If an employee engages in willful workplace misconduct resulting in injury, “the employer can escape liability altogether,” says Livingston. “But rarely will an employee be found to have engaged in willful misconduct.”

The state’s legalization of marijuana does not affect a misconduct analysis. “While marijuana is legal in Michigan, employees still cannot use it on the job,” says Livingston. “Drug tests showing marijuana use can be part of an employer dispute.”

Set Clear Policies and Risk Management

Both attorneys emphasize the importance of setting and disseminating clear company policies on workers’ compensation claims.

“Risk management and workplace safety strategies are the most important policies an employer can have,” says Livingston.

“Employers want to protect themselves against employees performing activities that are beyond the scope of their work,” says Risko. To remove a claim from the workers’ comp rubric, he adds, employers must be able to show “the employee knew about the company policy, it was strictly enforced, and then it was willfully violated.”

The best form of protection is prevention. “The more rules, the better,” says Livingston.

For help navigating Michigan’s workers’ compensation laws, creating clear worker’s comp policies, or dealing with a workers’ comp claim, use the Super Lawyers directory to find a Michigan attorney with experience in worker’s compensation.

To learn more about workers’ compensation programs, including worker eligibility, insurance providers, and temporary and permanent disability benefits, our workers’ compensation overview.

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