Returning to Work After Workers’ Compensation
After spending time on the mend from a workplace injury, you may be feeling anxious about your return to work. The workers’ compensation (WC) process can be complicated—especially for individuals dealing with their first-ever workers’ comp claim. On top of that, moving beyond an injury can also be emotionally challenging.
Knowing your rights and seeking the counsel of a skilled workers’ compensation attorney can make returning to work much easier. However, we realize that you may still be unsure whether your WC case requires legal advice and support. We’re here to show you how nearly all individuals on workers’ compensation leave will absolutely benefit from an experienced personal injury lawyer’s assistance as they recover and get back on the job.
Brief Review: What is Workers’ Compensation?
If you read our Complete Guide to Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer, you may remember our chapter on how workers’ compensation actually works. To recap, here in PA, The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides employees who have sustained a job injury or work-related illness with the necessary resources to cover their medical expenses. Should you be unable to work as a result of your injuries, the Act also provides wage-loss compensation benefits for a period of time.
You can think of WC as a type of insurance that covers workers after they get sick or hurt on the job. Workers’ comp provides you with a means of receiving pay and other benefits while you’re unable to work, even if your individual employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance.
Common Workers’ Comp Issues
One of the confusing things about workers’ compensation for many people is the fact that it is not designed to compensate you for the rest of your life, even if doctors determine that you have been too injured to continue working. Issues often come up in these situations, as disabled workers seek to bridge the gap between working and qualifying for more permanent disability benefits. If this is the situation you face, contacting a lawyer for help in maximizing your compensation and benefits is crucial.
Of course, even if you are in the process of returning to work following your WC leave, you may find that your benefits stop prematurely. While you’re transitioning from leave back to work, plenty of things can go wrong as you attempt to coordinate with your employer, doctors, and the PA Department of Labor & Industry’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
When Do I Have to Return to Work?
Assuming that you have not become disabled due to your workplace injury or illness and you are steadily recovering, you are likely eager to have life “get back to normal,” as many workers are.
That said, when you should return to work will ultimately be up to your doctor—with input from you, of course. Be sure to let your doctor know if you’re still not feeling fully healed—rushing back to work is never a good idea, as you could hurt yourself or make healing more difficult.
Know that your workers’ compensation benefits will typically stop after your wages revert to what you were earning before your workplace injury and subsequent medical leave. However, if you face wage loss due to your injuries, you may still qualify for partial WC benefits even though you’re working again. This can be a very complicated calculation, and you could very easily receive improper compensation.
It’s essential to stay informed and consult with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney who can help make sure your rights are honored and that you’re not unfairly treated during the process of going back to work.
How Should I Prepare to Return to Work?
As you complete your healing process and get ready to head back to your job, you need to do a little prep work to ensure a smoother transition. Here are a few of the biggest to-do’s.
Create a Plan
Before you return to work, speak with your doctor to make sure you will be able to handle your assigned job duties. After all, if you cannot perform your job as expected, you could be reprimanded at work. First, take some time and list out your job’s day-to-day tasks. Then, work with your doctor to determine if any new physical limitations you have may prevent you from performing those duties.
Meet with Your Employer to Review Your Medical Restrictions
If possible, schedule some time to sit down with your employer before you’re back on the job to review any medical restrictions or limitations you have. Taking the time to talk about any concerns you have about future job performance can help you avoid misunderstandings.
Do I Have to Accept a Light Duty Employment Offer?
It is important to remember that when your doctor clears you to return to work—even if you have some restrictions on your duties—you must return, or you could face losing your job. If you can no longer perform your original position, your employer will make you an offer for “light duty” to help accommodate your restrictions.
While you are not obligated to accept a new position of this nature when you receive an offer, know that you could be passing up continuing WC benefits designed to bridge the gap in wages between that lower-paying position and your original job.
Inform Other Involved Parties About Your Work Status Change
Once you have medical clearance from your doctor to return to work, you, your attorney, or a representative should inform the Workers’ Compensation Board as well as the WC insurance carrier (or whoever pays out the benefits).
You should also alert the Board and insurer whenever your work status changes because that will affect whether you receive certain benefits like wage-loss payment, etc. Failing to inform someone about changes to your work status could result in a violation of the PA fraud provisions.
Once You’re Back at Work After Workers’ Compensation Leave
After you’ve successfully returned to work following your WC leave and healing process, there are a couple of key things to remember.
Don’t Overdo Things
The last thing you want to do is reinjure yourself and potentially have to enter the workers’ compensation process all over again. Be sure to always have a copy of your work restrictions with you—not only as a reminder to yourself but as a reference for your supervisor, too.
Be Honest with Your Employer—and Yourself
If you find that your employer is not accommodating and asking you to perform assignments or duties that you’re restricted from, such as heavy lifting activities or repetitive movements, you may need to remind them of your limitations. Don’t be afraid to speak up. And be honest if something your employer asks you to do on the job is causing you pain.
If your supervisor or employer continues to ignore your concerns or assigns you restricted duties, it may be time to get your workers’ compensation attorney involved to help you.
Having Problems Returning to Work? You Need an Experienced Workers’ Comp Lawyer
Here at Westmoreland Injury Lawyers, we are Western Pennsylvania’s best resource for workers’ compensation issues. Whether you’re getting ready to transition back to work and are dealing with a less than cooperative employer, or you are just beginning the WC process and need assistance dealing with a denial of benefits, we’re here to help!