If you got injured at the job and have now recovered, workers’ compensation law states that you must get back to work. But if you haven’t yet made a full recovery, you might be subjected to certain return to work restrictions.
What is workers’ compensation return to work restrictions?
Depending on your injury, there might be some things you cannot do upon returning to work.
For instance, you used to operate heavy machinery but then you hurt your back. Upon returning to your job, your doctor tells you that you can’t do labor-intensive work. These are called return-to-work restrictions and your employer has to recognize these limitations.
They can either transfer you to a less labor-intensive job or lessen your work hours. If they cannot provide you with reasonable accommodation, they will have to continue paying your workers comp benefits.
Since you’re already earning, your workers’ comp benefits may also decrease when you return to work. This is why it’s common for employers and insurance companies to force injured workers to return to work as soon as possible. Even if the doctor says otherwise.
If you think your employer is violating your return to work restrictions, don’t hesitate to consult a workers comp lawyer. Remember that you can refuse to go back to work if it will jeopardize your recovery or endanger your life.
But if your employer honors your work restrictions and provides you with reasonable accommodations, going back to work can also be good for you.
Benefits of Returning to Work
Contrary to what most people think, returning to work is not only beneficial for employers. You can benefit from it too.
First off, it allows you to earn more than your workers’ compensation. Being around other people is also good for your mental health which can hasten your recovery. It can also boost your self-worth which has undoubtedly suffered when you got disabled.
When Should You Return to Work?
As a general rule, you should never return to work if your doctor hasn’t yet given you the green light. Your employer may send you a Return to Work offer. However, they can’t force you to go back if your doctor says otherwise.
Most of the time, your doctor will only release you to work (either with restrictions or without) if you have reached maximum medical improvement.
But even if you have received a Notice of Ability to Return to Work, your employer still can’t force you to if they can’t provide a reasonable accommodation.
Determining Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
In a nutshell, maximum medical improvement (MMI) is when your recovery has reached its peak. Meaning, your doctor doesn’t expect your condition to get any better.
In some instances, this can mean that you have fully recovered and your level of health is the same as before you got injured. But with certain injuries, especially those involving permanent disabilities, a full recovery is not possible. In these instances, a person is often deemed to have reached MMI if further treatments no longer work.
Obviously, there is no definite timeframe for MMI. Each person heals at their own pace. The only one who can decide whether you have or haven’t yet reached MMI is your doctor.
But remember that their pronouncements will also depend on what you will tell them. So make sure to be honest with your doctor. This will help them come up with the most accurate diagnosis and recommendations.
More often than not, your treating doctor is different from the doctor who will do the Independent Medical Examination (IME). By law, your employer or insurance company gets to pick your IME doctor. So their recommendation will most likely be favorable to the insurance company.
If you feel like the doctor has made an error in their pronouncement, you can always ask for a second opinion. But remember that the final choice for your IME doctor still lies with your employer. When all else fails, ask help from a workers’ compensation attorney.
Before Returning to Work
To make sure that all goes well upon your return to work, don’t forget to do the following:
- Get a written note from your doctor detailing your work restrictions. Give one copy to your employer and keep one for yourself. Always keep this copy whenever you’re on the job.
- Consult a workers comp lawyer before signing any document from your employer or insurance company. Otherwise, you could lose all rights to any future benefits you’re entitled to.
- Always keep your employer updated on your condition while you’re on leave. Let them know your recovery progress and what the doctor is telling you about returning to work.
- Discuss with your employer on how they plan to accommodate your restrictions.
What Happens When You Don’t Return to Work?
If your doctor has already given you leave to return to work and you didn’t, you could lose your workers’ comp benefits. Remember that workers comp is designed to help workers who have lost their earning capacity. If you have regained that capacity, then you are no longer entitled to wage loss benefits.
In some states, workers’ compensation also doesn’t come with a job-protected leave. So even if your employer cannot fire you for filing workers comp, they can fire you for any other reason. This includes refusing to go to work even when you’ve already recovered.
VICTOR MALCA LAW – A TRUSTED NAME IN FLORIDA
Victor Malca Law has over 25 years of litigation experience, we are the most trusted workers’ compensation lawyers in Florida. Our area of expertise is in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claim social security disability benefits.
Our unwavering advocacy for employee rights and privileges are also recognized by our peers. Book a free consultation today.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca Law P.A. and enjoys helping people with questions about social security, workers compensation, and other serious matters involving people’s livelihood. She is not an attorney and her writing should not be considered legal advice.