After suffering an injury on the job and receiving workers’ compensation benefits, many workers have questions about transitioning back into the workforce, especially when it comes to how their benefits may be impacted. Unfortunately, employers and insurance companies have strategies in place to attack and try to reduce the benefits injured workers are legally entitled to before employees step back onto the job. Knowing these strategies ahead of time may help you avoid problems with your employer and insurance company after you return to work.
When Can You Return to Work After an Injury?
Generally speaking, the date you can return to work depends on the medical assessment from your doctor. However, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier may send you to their doctor (IME) whose opinion may differ. Your physician should be able to help you determine whether you are well enough to return to work based on the severity of your injuries and the physical demands of your job responsibilities.
Depending on your recovery level and the type of work you perform, your doctor may determine one of three things:
- You’ve achieved a full recovery or are functionally recovered enough to return to your prior occupation.
- You are eligible for light- or modified-duty. With light- or modified-duty, you are cleared to work with certain restrictions. Light- or modified-duty allows you to return to the workforce in some capacity despite an ongoing residual disability.
- You are ineligible for any work because of your disability.
If your doctor recommends restrictions on the job, like no lifting items over 20 pounds or standing more than 30 minutes at a time, ask for a written note explaining these restrictions in detail. Send a copy to your employer to see if they are willing to accommodate your restrictions and keep another copy for yourself.
Problems With IMEs
In the vast majority of workers’ compensation injuries, the insurance company will likely request the opinion of an independent medical examiner (IME). We generally use the term insurance medical evaluation because many times they are biased for the insurance company. An IME is a third-party doctor the insurance company hires to determine whether your condition is work-related and, if so, the extent of your disability.
Often the IME doctor says the worker is healthier than the worker’s treating physician thinks. If this is the case, many times the workers’ compensation insurance carrier will pressure the employer to go with the IME’s decision for when you should return to work. If you see a major difference between what the IME and your doctor recommends, seek the help of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer immediately. With the right legal assistance, you may secure additional time and/or money to help you recover from your injuries.
Before Returning to Work
Once a doctor medically clears you to return to work in a full- or light-duty capacity, expect to receive a Notice of Ability to Return to Work that explains your current physical condition and why you should be capable of returning to work. Next, expect to receive a Return to Work Offer from your employer. Your Return to Work Offer explains the job responsibilities your employer is willing to offer you after you have been released to some level of work either by your doctor, the IME doctor, or both.
Sometimes a worker’s doctor or IME doctor may clear you for work before you and your doctor feel you are ready. Contact a workers’ compensation lawyer to discuss your rights if this happens to you. If you refuse to return to work after a doctor releases you, you may lose your job and workers’ compensation benefits.
What’s in a Return to Work Policy?
Some companies provide a return to work policy to allow workers to return to work in a limited capacity or with restrictions to grant workers a transition period so they can continue healing until they are physically healthy enough to return to their former position. A return to work policy may include:
- A meeting with your employer to discuss the extent of your injuries and your current physical limitations.
- Reasonable accommodations to help you transition into your old position when you are physically capable. Examples include temporarily moving you to a limited duty position or providing you with extra help, tools, and resources to continue your old job to accommodate your restrictions.
- Communication between you and your employer. The ultimate goal is to return you to your former work duties after you are medically fit to resume those responsibilities.
A return to work policy is designed to protect both you and your employer. However, most employers have been through this process while you haven’t. Contact us or your attorney if your employer contacts you to return to work in any capacity.
Returning to Work
Once you return to the workplace, keep yourself and your rights safe. Your employer and the insurance company may try to strip you of some of your rights on your first day back and later on.
Your First Day Back
On your first day back, your employer or the insurance company may ask you to sign a few forms related to your workers’ compensation case. In some cases, they may tell you that you are signing forms so they can release your final check. Do not sign anything until you contact your attorney. You could be signing rights away without knowing it.
Always consult a workers’ compensation lawyer before signing any paperwork related to your injury. We often see employers and/or insurance companies ask employees to sign papers that strip them of wage loss benefits and medical bill payments. Do not sign your rights away—talk to your lawyer.
To protect yourself on the job in the future, keep a copy of your work restrictions with you at all times. Your list protects you if a manager or team member asks you to do something that is physically unsafe for you to manage.
If your employer refuses to accept your medical restrictions, contact a workers’ compensation lawyer for legal assistance.
Seek Legal Protection
Returning to work after an injury is a complicated ordeal because it requires you to coordinate between your doctor, your employer, and the insurance company. Keep yourself legally and physically protected from harm. Dugan & Associates works beside you so you receive the rights you deserve. Contact us for more information.