RETURNING TO WORK AFTER A JOB-RELATED INJURY: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
As an experienced workers' compensation attorney in Monroe, clients will often ask me, "can I get a settlement from workers' compensation if I go back to work?"
Workers' compensation, after all, revolves around the idea that an injured employee is unable to fulfill their job duties and requires rightful compensation to recoup their physical, mental, and financial losses until they are.
If you're an injured employee, then you're surely wondering what will happen to your benefits when it's time to return to work. Can you still receive benefits if you return to work? Are there situations when returning to work isn't a good idea?
In this article, I'll answer some of the most common questions I receive around returning to work after an on-the-job injury. By the end, you'll learn when it makes sense to return to work, whether you should return to work at all, and how to make the most of your workers' comp claim.
Can I Get a Settlement from Workers' Compensation If I Go Back to Work?
You must return to work at some point. In a workers' compensation case, however, your needs, the insurance company's needs, and the employer's needs are all in varying levels of conflict. This can make it challenging to know when it's appropriate to go back to work.
Let me explain.
As an injured worker, you want to secure the full extent of your workers' comp benefits you deserve and recover from your workplace injury. Your employer wants you to recover from the job injury as soon as possible to return to your job duties. Likewise, so long as your personal injury impairment keeps you out of work, the insurance carrier will have to continue paying your workers' comp benefits.
The sooner you get back to work, the sooner your employer's insurance company can stop paying your workers' comp benefits.
Depending on the doctor's orders, the employer's return to work policy, and position availability (and flexibility), injured employees may be able to return to work with work restrictions and continue receiving benefits for a work-related injury.
If work restrictions are in place, or if you're ordered to return to work on light-duty, then you may be paid less than your former role. However, you can often receive compensation to make up the difference in pay. A workers' comp attorney can help you explore your options for rightful compensation in this situation.
Do You Have To Return To Work After a Workers' Compensation Injury?
Suppose your doctor or an appointed workers' compensation doctor has cleared you to return to work, then yes. In that case, you are required to rejoin the workforce.
However, if you feel that you haven't fully healed from your injuries, you can file an appeal. Just remember, if you choose not to return to work, you will risk losing your workers' comp benefits.
Now, returning to work with a disability is a different situation. If you’ve been disabled in some capacity from a workplace injury, and there is still a position available with your former employer, then you can ask for accommodations to facilitate a smooth transition back to work. In either situation, you may still be able to receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
How Do You Know When It's Time To Return to Work?
If you've been away from work for some time, tending to your medical treatment and physical recovery, you'll inevitably begin wondering when is the right time to return to work.
Your doctor will be the first person to evaluate your health condition and tell you you're cleared to return to work. Working with your doctor, you want to ensure that you are physically and mentally fit to perform your full duty on the job before you return to work.
In many instances, injured workers are kept off work or on vocational rehabilitation until they reach the point of Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). In simple terms, MMI is the point when an injured person has recovered as much as they possibly can.
Reaching MMI is one common sign that an injured worker is ready to rejoin the workforce. However, it is by no means the only indicator of an injured employee's recovery status. In some cases, the employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier will ask the employee to take an Independent Medical Examination (IME) for a second opinion about their work and disability status.
Once you've been cleared to return to work after an on-the-job injury, there are a few more factors you should consider before making your decision:
The type and availability of work — You may be faced with choosing between returning to your former role and leaving with a lump sum settlement. If you're able to fulfill your duties, then you should go back to work. If disability or impairment prevents you from returning to a previous role, then see if another position or modifications are available. If so, you may be eligible to continue receiving workers' comp benefits after returning to work with restrictions in place.
Your relationship with your employer — Sometimes, professional relationships can become tainted over the workers' compensation claims process. If you anticipate any hostility, discrimination, or pressure from your former employer, consider working to settle your case and seek employment elsewhere.
Understand workers' comp disability categories — Here are the main disability categories and what you should know about them:
Temporary Total Disability prevents you from working entirely for a certain amount of time.
Temporary Partial Disability prevents you from doing some, but not all, of your job duties for a certain amount of time.
Permanent Total Disability prevents you from ever returning to work, whether your former employer or a different one.
Permanent Partial Disability is a permanent injury that partially impairs your ability to work.
What About Work Restrictions/Light Duty?
As I mentioned earlier, even if you haven't reached your maximum medical improvement, you may still be cleared to return to work with restrictions in place. Work restrictions simply dictate what an employee can and cannot do when they return to their former job or find a new one.
Work restrictions will depend on the nature of your unique injury and physical limitations. Common work restrictions might include a modified work schedule, limited physical tasks, "light-duty" or seated work only.
Under workers' compensation law, your employer may offer you a different work position that safely accommodates your injury or disability. In the state of Louisiana, according to Louisiana Code section 23:1221, if the new position pays less than your former role, you may be eligible for weekly payments to make up the difference in pay to compensate for wage loss.
Make sure to work with a workers' comp attorney who can do their part to help fight for your rights to fair compensation.
What is a Workers' Compensation Return-to-Work Policy?
Many employers have a formal policy in place to assist with an injured employee's transition back to the workplace.
This policy, called a return-to-work policy (RTW), is intended to help injured employees return to their former work as soon as possible — potentially while they're still recovering.
Even if your employer doesn't have an official RTW policy, I urge you to work with your employer to create a plan. After all, you must look out for yourself. Having a clear, agreed-upon plan in place will help set expectations and define your new role's boundaries. Here are a few things to consider including in your plan:
Written confirmation that your employer understands your injuries and job-related limitations.
A detailed overview of any accommodations your employer will provide to ensure a smooth transition back to work.
Regular, open communications between you, your employer, and your primary doctor. This will help keep everyone on the same page with regards to your recovery status and job capabilities.
Can Going Back to Work Risk My Workers' Comp Settlement?
Your employer, the insurance company, and no doubt, your family and friends all want to see you recover and return to work. However, rushing the recovery process to try and get back to work may not be the best decision if you want to continue receiving workers' comp benefits.
Returning to work too soon can be problematic for two main reasons. If you return to work too soon and are unable to fulfill your assigned duties, then your employer may decide to let you go. Second, you may risk losing temporary total disability benefits through your workers' compensation settlement.
If a doctor releases you to return to work safely and you choose not to, you may jeopardize your rights to receive workers' compensation benefits.
Your employer may offer you a lump sum settlement in exchange for not pursuing further compensation for medical bills or lost wages
It's important to return to work only after you've completely healed.
Can You Get Fired After a Workplace Injury?
To put it bluntly, yes, you can be fired after a work injury.
It depends on the nature of the injury, but in some cases, the employer can't offer the same position or type of work to the returning employee. Unless your employer has a specific employment contract for this situation, they are under no obligation to provide you with the same role or pay in the future.
If there is no suitable position for you with work restrictions in place or light-duty work, then you may be forced to look for a new job. You may also have to rely on workers' comp insurance benefits. In some situations, the insurance company will offer you a lump sum settlement to resolve your claim. If you're faced with this offer, it can be a difficult decision to make. Settling means your regular benefits checks will stop coming, and refusing to settle invites a whole new set of complications.
Contact a Workers' Comp Attorney for Questions About Returning to Work and Your Worker's Compensation Benefits
If you've suffered a work-related injury and are thinking about filing your workers' compensation claim, or you are thinking about returning to work, experienced workers’ comp lawyers can help you decide on the best course of action for your situation.
Contact Bruscato Law Firm today for a free consultation to discuss your workers' comp case. Call our practice at 318-855-1613 or click here to book a free appointment.