All states—except Texas where workers' comp is voluntary—require employers to provide workers' compensation insurance (sometimes also called workman's comp) to their employees.
Workers' comp insurance provides coverage in case the employee is injured on the job or develops a medical problem or illness because of the job (i.e., carpal tunnel syndrome, or cancer from being exposed to toxic chemicals.)
Workers' Comp Insurance and Interns
Interns, both paid and unpaid, are usually required by law to be covered by worker's compensation insurance by the employer with very few exceptions. Student interns (paid or unpaid) providing non-manual services to a religious, charitable, or educational institution (covered under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code) are exempt from mandatory coverage (but can also be covered voluntarily).
It is important to understand that many states have worker's compensation laws that automatically bar employees and interns from suing their employer for damages even if an employer broke a law, harmed someone on purpose, or was found negligent.
If workers' comp is offered as an option carefully consider if it makes the best sense for you. If you are injured at work, you will usually get some benefit payout from a predetermined worker's comp benefits structure unique to your state for your injury, but no state offers benefits to match 100% of your income, and in many cases, will limit your medical expense coverage.
If you work in a dangerous environment, remember in many states, you forfeit your right to sue your employer when you have workers' comp. Worker's comp is a safety net to avoid litigation -- it does not provide a legal avenue to file a lawsuit for damages. Before you make the decision to opt-in for worker's comp check your state's department of labor or insurance division to see what the laws are in your state.
What It Covers
When available or required by law, interns are eligible for the same coverage as full-time employees. Worker's comp is not health insurance coverage. It is accident, accidental death, and job injury/illness safeguard insurance.
If you are injured on the job while interning and have workers' compensation insurance, you can file a claim to collect for lost wages and medical expenses for a job-related injury. If you are an unpaid intern, you may still be able to file a claim for medical expenses, but not for lost income.
The workers' comp system is designed to protect employers from being sued. States that do not allow employers to be sued also require that employers provide coverage to all employees and interns. Employers are not allowed to pass any of the costs of workers' comp insurance on to interns or employees. All premiums must be paid for by the employer.
What to Do If Injured on the Job
If you are an intern and have been injured at work, immediately contact your human resources department or manager and ask how you can file a worker's comp insurance claim. If your employer does not have coverage for you, or your worker's comp claim is denied or offers unsatisfactory benefits, contact a worker's compensation insurance attorney immediately.
In some cases, you may be able to sue the worker's comp system (an administrative claim) or sue a third party (civil claim.) Worker's comp laws are complicated, and if you have a dispute, it is always best to contact an attorney to at least get a free consultation to explore your rights under your own state's law.
The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.