Pennsylvania workers may be interested to learn that on March 4, the Labor Department released a report charging that the workers’ compensation system is inadequate and is a contributing factor in the growing gap between the rich and poor. According to the report, an on-the-job injury affected workers’ earnings for years, and over a 10-year period, a worker would earn 15 percent less. This amounts to an average of $31,000.

Lower earnings were not the only concern. The report also found that workers’ compensation covered only about 20 percent of lost wages and medical expenses, and most injured workers did not get any compensation. Many do not know that they are eligible or fear losing their jobs if they apply, and as a result, fewer than 40 percent of workers who are eligible actually apply.

Low-wage workers and immigrant workers are the most affected. The study also found that the increasing use of temporary workers is a factor. Temporary workers get less training and are less experienced. They also may be incorrectly classified as ineligible independent contractors. Misclassifying workers in this way also means that employers do not have the same liability issues as they would if the workers were employees.

In most cases, individuals who are injured on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation. Even if they believe they are not because they are classified as independent contractors or for some other reason, they may want to speak with an attorney to find out their rights. An attorney also may be able to help with paperwork and any appeals if an initial claim is denied. Employees should not delay in reporting an injury at work, as an employer may try to deny the validity of the claim.