Suffering an injury at work is a stressful experience. Not only are you dealing with the pain and physical toll of the injury, but you’ll learn to navigate a new normal where you might need potentially significant time off from work.
One of the biggest concerns that injured workers face is wondering whether they will lose their jobs if they are out for a long period of time. They may be concerned that they will be pressured into returning to work before they are fully healed simply because their boss says they are needed. What should workers know about when to return to work?
The decision is up to a doctor
From the moment that you file a workers’ comp claim, a doctor will be the person who determines when you are ready to return to work. Even if your employer is pressuring you to return, you must be cleared from a treating physician, first.
If you have been treated by an Employer-Directed medical provider you may be advised to return to work before you feel your injuries have sufficiently healed and believe you can perform your job duties safely without further aggravating the work injury.
It may be advisable to contact your personal physician when injured and to have him/her treat you for your injuries rather than the Employer-Directed medical provider. Your doctor will be paid by the Workers’ Compensation Insurer. Your doctor will need to document your injuries and the causal relationship between your injuries & need for treatment from the work-related accident. The doctor will also need to document your ability to work. If the doctor, at some point, believes you could return to “light duty” work, then they need to be specific as to your physical restrictions upon a return to work, ”light duty”.
If you do not have a personal physician an attorney may be able to assist you in finding a physician to treat your injuries.
Returning to work before you are physically able can pose risks of re-injuring yourself or undoing the progress you’ve made toward your recovery. Keeping in occasional contact with your employer or direct supervisor can be a good idea throughout your recovery period. This can help them to stay up to date with your progress and understand a general timeframe of when to expect you back, once you have a clearer picture of what this looks like.
Other things to consider
While it is illegal for your boss to fire you because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, they are not required to hold your exact job open while you are out. If they determine that keeping your job open while you are recovering will create a hardship for the company, they can find another person to fill the position. If FMLA is applicable to you then your company must keep your position available for 12 weeks of your absence before terminating you.
If your job is held open for you and you have been given clearance to go back to work by your doctor, have a chat with your employer before you return. Make sure that they understand any temporary or permanent medical restrictions you have been given and whether you can perform your job with these restrictions. If you are unable to return to your previous job due to permanent work restrictions then you may be entitled to Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
Should you find that you are being pressured to return to work before you are healed, or permanent work restrictions prevent you from performing your job then consider discussing the matter with an attorney who understands workers’ compensation law in your State.