Returning to Work After Workers’ Compensation
After spending time on the mend, you may be anxious about your return to work. The process can be complicated for individuals who have never dealt with workers’ compensation before. Knowing your rights and seeking the counsel of a skilled workers’ compensation attorney can make returning to work or continuing your benefits much easier. It’s understandable that you’d have questions about the process and any changes that take effect once you return.
What is workers’ compensation?
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides workers who have sustained a job injury or work-related illness with medical expenses; and should you be unable to work, the Act also provides wage-loss compensation benefits. You can think of it as a type of insurance that covers employees after they get sick or hurt on the job. It provides you with a means of receiving pay and other benefits while you’re unable to work.
All the more reason to be aware of the laws, regulations, and options that affect returning to work following workers’ compensation leave.
Returning to work and what that means for you
How do I return to work?
Before you return to work, you’ll want to speak with your physician to make sure you’ll be able to handle your assigned duties. If you are unable to complete your job duties and you have not discussed this with your physician, you could be reprimanded at work. Once you have medical clearance, you, your attorney, or a representative should inform the Workers’ Compensation Board as well as the insurance carrier (or whoever pays out these 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.
Workers’ compensation benefits will typically stop after your wage reverts back to what it was previously. However, if you continue to suffer wage loss due to your injuries, you’ll probably still receive your benefits, but at a potentially smaller amount. This can be a very complicated calculation and you could very easily be improperly paid and compensated.
It’s important 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.
The disadvantages of being rushed back to work
Although returning to work may help aid you in your recovery, there are several disadvantages to rushing back into work. Returning to work too soon might result in lower pay or the reduction of your benefits, even if you’re still counting on them to cover your medical expenses and lost wages. Further, you may truly be unable to handle your old job, and being forced back to work prematurely could exacerbate your injuries or illness if you don’t follow your physician’s recommendations.
Sometimes employers will offer you a different job if they think you’ll be able to handle it. This is called an “offer of employment,” and it’s a position your job makes available to you within your medical restrictions. These positions will generally pay fewer wages than your previous position; and even though you might still have access to partial workers’ compensation benefits, it’s tricky to navigate that decision alone.
You’re free to decline or accept the job offer. If you can physically handle the job being offered, there’s not much to lose by taking it as you may likely still continue to receive some of your workers’ compensation benefits in the meantime. Turning the offer of employment down could cause your employer to petition a workers’ compensation judge to stop or reduce any wage-loss benefits you’d be receiving based on the job you were most recently offered.
If your employer has made you an offer of employment but you don’t think you can perform your new duties, or you’re just not ready to return, consult with an attorney to learn about what options you may have available.
Earnings and what’s covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act
How much you earned before your absence will impact the pay you receive after returning. If you receive less because of a disability, your workers’ compensation benefits may still continue and supplement the wages you’re earning back at work. This is most commonly referred to as a “reduced earnings” benefit. Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, those receiving workers’ compensation are entitled to the payment of “related reasonable surgical and medical services rendered by a physician or other health care provider.” The Act also covers expenses for:
- Hospital treatment and services
- Orthopedic appliances and prostheses
Choosing a health care provider to treat your workers’ compensation related illness or injury
In Pennsylvania, you’re allowed to select your own health care provider for treatment—unless your job has a list of six or more physicians/health care providers posted in the workplace. In this case, you’re required to use one of those providers for the first 90 days of your initial treatment. By going with a provider not on this list, the insurance carrier or employer may refuse to pay for the treatment. After the 90 days are up, however, you’re free to select a provider of your choice.
Receiving workers’ compensation benefits while working
Whether you return to your old position or one based on an offer of employment, you may still be eligible for workers’ compensation while you work. This can be due to persisting injuries or conditions that impact your ability to perform your job, or other extraneous factors. In Pennsylvania, you may also be eligible for workers’ compensation if you’ve been injured previously; however, notice of the injury must be given no later than 120 days after the incident for you to receive compensation.
Knowing your rights
It’s important to remember that employers cannot fire you, harass you, or deny you a job because of a past workers’ compensation claim. If a recent workers’ compensation claim has been denied, or if you think you’ve been the victim of harassment or unlawful discrimination/termination, contact us today. We have experience in workers’ compensation cases and we can help you get the compensation you deserve.