office employee after falling down stairs and hitting his head

What to do if an employee refuses medical attention

Author: Brendan N. Gooley, Carlton Fields

What are our legal obligations to an employee who fell and injured himself at work but refused medical attention when the ambulance arrived?

Check specific rules for your state, but in many cases, an employee’s refusal of initial medical treatment may not be sufficient to avoid a workers’ compensation claim. Refusal of initial treatment may, however, provide a basis to dispute that an injury was work related.

For example, if an employee falls and refuses immediate treatment, but later claims back problems are related to the fall, the employer may be able to argue that the employee’s refusal of initial treatment establishes that the back problems must be related to something else.

But the mere refusal of initial treatment would generally not be an absolute defense to a claim. This situation is different from a situation where an employee refuses to undertake recommended treatment to resolve an injury. Generally speaking, an employee can’t refuse proper treatment to claim they remain injured.

Of note, an employer should generally document the employee’s injury even if the employee declines treatment. Timely documentation can help dispute subsequent allegations. In many states, employers also have a legal obligation to report workplace injuries to the appropriate governmental agency even if the employee declines treatment.

Brendan Gooley is an attorney at Carlton Fields in Hartford, Connecticut. He can be reached at