The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act was passed in 1915. The Act requires most employers in Alaska to carry workers’ compensation insurance for the purpose of providing benefits to employees who become injured on the job.
The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act has undergone lots of changes since 1915, but the goal of providing benefits to those who become injured on the job remains the same.
Let’s take a closer look at workers’ compensation in Alaska.
What is workers’ compensation?
Workers' compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job. It is a no-fault insurance system, which means injured workers can receive benefits regardless of who's at fault for the injury.
Workers' compensation laws are intended to ensure that employees who are injured at work receive compensation for their injuries. However, workers' compensation also protects employers by prohibiting injured employees from filing personal injury lawsuits against employers based on work-related injuries in most situations.
Does my employer carry workers’ compensation insurance?
The vast majority of employers in Alaska are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which means the vast majority of employees in Alaska are covered.
Alaska requires all employers who employ one or more workers to provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees.
Independent contractors are NOT required to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. An independent contractor is defined as someone who meets all of the following criteria:
- Has an express contract to perform services;
- Is free from direction and control over the means and manner of providing services;
- Incurs most of the expenses for tools, labor, and other operational costs;
- Has an opportunity for profit and loss from the services performed;
- Is free to hire and fire employees to help perform the services for the contracted work;
- Has all business, trade, or professional licenses required by federal, state, or municipal authorities of an individual or business engaging in the same type of services; and
- Follows Internal Revenue Service requirements by obtaining an employer identification number and filing business income appropriately.
Is my injury covered by workers’ compensation insurance?
All injuries and illnesses that are not self-inflicted are covered by workers' compensation insurance so long as the injury or illness arose out of and occurred during the course and scope of your employment.
An injury is NOT considered to have arisen out of your employment if it occurred at work but would have occurred anywhere. For example, if you have a heart attack at work due to coronary heart disease, you probably won't receive workers' compensation benefits because the heart attack did not necessarily arise strictly out of your employment.
Alaska allows claims for mental-stress injuries so long as the injury is "extraordinary and unusual."
Workers' compensation covers both traumatic work injuries and occupational work injuries:
- Traumatic work injuries are those that result from a one-time accident at work (e.g., suffering a back injury as a result of a fall from construction scaffolding).
- Occupational injuries occur over a period of time (e.g., repetitive movement injuries).
According to Alaska’s going and coming rule, an employee’s routine commute to and from work is typically not covered under workers’ compensation. In other words, if an employee is injured in a car accident on their way to work, they typically can’t receive workers’ compensation benefits.
How do I file a workers’ compensation claim in Alaska?
If you’re injured on the job in Alaska, there are several steps you need to take to ensure you receive the workers’ compensation benefits you deserve. Here’s what you need to do:
- Get medical care immediately. Your health should be your top priority. In Alaska, you’re permitted to choose a licensed doctor to treat your injury. Be sure to keep receipts for all of the medical care you receive.
- Notify your supervisor. You’re required to notify your supervisor about your injury in writing within 30 days of the accident. If you fail to do so, you may not receive any workers’ compensation benefits.
- Follow up with your supervisor. Your supervisor is required to file a “Report of Injury” with the workers’ compensation insurer within 21 days of receiving your written notice. If your employer refuses to file the required form, contact an attorney or contact the Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
- Follow up with your doctor. It’s important to attend all of your follow-up appointments and follow your doctor’s advice. If you fail to do so, your benefits may ultimately be reduced.
What benefits does workers’ compensation provide?
In Alaska, injured workers can receive the following workers' compensation benefits:
• Medical expenses. Injured workers can receive “reasonable and necessary medical expenses” for up to two years following their injury. These expenses include things like doctor’s visits, hospital bills, prescriptions, and physical therapy sessions. Medical expenses may be paid for more than two years if ordered by the workers’ compensation board.
Be sure to provide your medical providers with the name and address of your workers’ compensation insurer and ask them to bill the insurer. The insurer has 30 days to pay a medical bill once it receives the bill and accompanying medical report.
• Wage loss benefits. You can receive wage loss benefits if you’re unable to return to work or you’re unable to return to the same type of work.
Wage loss benefits are calculated according to the nature of the injury, with injuries falling into one of the following categories:
• Temporary partial disability (TPD). If you're able to return to part-time or light-duty work while you're recovering but earn less than your normal wages, you may be eligible for temporary partial disability benefits. Temporary partial disability benefits are 80 percent of the difference between your spendable weekly wage before your injury and your spendable weekly wage after returning to work (subject to a statutory maximum).
• Temporary total disability (TTD). If you're temporarily unable to work, you may be eligible for temporary total disability benefits. These benefits are paid at your weekly compensation rate until you are medically stable or can return to work, whichever occurs first.
• Permanent partial disability (PPD). If you suffer a permanent injury but are still able to work in some capacity, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits in addition to temporary disability benefits. Your award will be based on the permanent impairment rating assigned to you by your doctor.
• Permanent total disability (PTD). If you're totally and permanently disabled, you may be able to receive your weekly compensation rate until your disability ends or you die.
• Death benefits. In the case of a fatal work injury, the insurer is required to pay $10,000 for funeral expenses and $5,000 to the employee’s surviving spouse and/or children. What’s more, weekly benefits must be paid to the employee’s dependents.
Can I appeal an unfavorable workers’ compensation decision?
If you’re not satisfied with the workers’ compensation insurer’s decision, you can file a written claim with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. This must be done within two years of your injury.
If you’re not satisfied with the decision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, you can file an appeal to the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission. This must be done within 30 days of receiving the decision from the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board.
Finally, if the Appeals Commission doesn’t rule in your favor, you can file an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you navigate the appeals process.
Should I hire a workers’ compensation attorney to handle my Alaska workers’ compensation claim?
You’re allowed to hire an attorney at any point in the workers’ compensation claims process. An attorney can present your claim and handle an appeal if your claim is denied.
If you ultimately prevail on a claim in front of the workers’ compensation board, the insurer will be required to pay all or part of your attorney’s fees and legal costs.
To find an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Alaska, visit our free online directory.
The basis for personal injury law is fairly straightforward:
If you're injured because of someone's negligence, then you're entitled to recover for your financial losses related to the injury.
The premise for the workers' compensation system is similar:
Your employer is required to have specific insurance that provides benefits if you're injured at work.