Workers’ compensation benefits can afford Maryland employees the time they need to heal after a severe work injury. Since the benefits often cover medical bills and lost wages, they can reduce an employee’s worries as they recover.
However, what happens when it is time for the employee to return to work after recovering from a work injury?
If an injured worker feels ready to return to work, they must consult their treating physician as to what, if any, restrictions are needed to ensure a successful return to work.
Keep in touch with your employer
Throughout the treatment period an injured worker is responsible to provide out of work or restriction slips from their treating physician to the employer.
Regular updates, without excessive details, can help both the employer and the employee prepare for their return to work. Often, employers might help create a reintegration plan for the employee. These plans often consider the employee’s old work responsibilities and their current abilities.
When an injured worker is released back to to work on light duty, it is essential for the worker to discuss the limitations with the employer, so all parties involved have clear expectations of the return to work. Should an injured employee be provided limitations, and the employer is unable to accommodate the restrictions, an injured worker is entitled to remain out of work and continue to receive benefits until either the employer can accommodate them or the injured worker can return to full duty.
Recognize and respect any limitations from the injury
Physicians usually explain any limitations that an employee might have when providing a disability certificate. These limitations may include:
- Limiting the hours an injured worker works during a shift
- Limiting the amount a person is required to lift
- Permitting regular breaks to avoid overexertion
- Excluding the use of certain heavy machinery
- Excluding the use of certain work activities, such as the use of ladders, stooping or crawling
As explained above, it is critical to report these limitations to the employer before returning to work and keep a copy of this report.
However, employees should also pay attention to their own body when returning to work. It is common for workers to throw all of their energy into work when they return to their job. But injured workers have a responsibility to explain the nature of their employment to their doctor, so a restriction slip best fits the injured worker’s present medical condition. Employees who suffered a work-related injury do not want to do so again. So, it is essential that employees respect their own boundaries and do not expose themselves to new injuries.
Do you need vocational rehabilitation?
In circumstances where an injured worker has completed treatment or is nearing the end of available medical care, the injured worker must identify if permanent work restrictions will be warranted. If an injured worker requires permanent restrictions, which prevent the worker from returning to their prior position, a physician must indicate such circumstances. If an injured worker has permanent restrictions and the employer cannot accommodate those restrictions, the injured worker may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation (Maryland Code, Labor and Employment § 9-673).
Vocational rehabilitation includes a professional counselor being assigned to an injured worker’s claim to assist in securing new employment. While the injured worker participates in vocational rehabilitation, they are entitled to the same weekly benefits they were entitled to while they were receiving medical benefits and out of work.
Although deserving of a separate post, vocational rehabilitation includes multiple types of services in an effort to help the injured worker obtain “suitable gainful employment.” Upon receipt of such employment, whether with the old employer or a new employer, vocational rehabilitation is then completed.
Understanding and navigating the different stages of recovery and returning to work is often complicated and confusing. If an injured worker receives vague or inaccurate documentation, it can often lead to an unnecessary termination of benefits. Other times, employers and their insurers contest an injured worker’s request for accommodations or vocational rehabilitation. As a result, it is very important for injured workers to have skilled and experienced legal representation to ensure and fight for coverage.