If you were injured while performing your work duties, the idea of returning to work may cause mixed feelings. Perhaps enjoy your job and feel anxious to get back to your normal routine, or you might worry that it’s too soon to return and doing so could cause reinjury or the return of painful symptoms. Either way, unless you’ve suffered a severe, disabling injury, you’ll have to face a return to work once your injury heals. Workers’ compensation provides enough benefits to cover medical costs and pay the bills but it doesn’t take the place of your full paychecks and employee benefits.
If you’re returning to work after an injury, it helps to follow tips for smoothing the transition back to the workplace.
Wait for Your Doctor to Clear You for a Return
The first thing to know is that returning to work isn’t entirely your own decision. Your medical provider must first clear you for a return to your duties. Typically, your treating doctor will do one of the following:
Clear you to return to your previous job at full-duty
Clear you for light-duty work
Clear you to work in a different position in your place of employment to minimize the risk of reinjury
Once your doctor clears you to return to work in any capacity, the law compels you to make a good-faith effort to return to employment. If you refuse to return after you’re cleared, you’ll forfeit your right to compensation for lost wages.
Remain in Contact With Your Employer While You’re Out
It’s important to keep open communication with your employer while you‘re out of work and receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Be sure to update your employer on your recovery and your doctor’s notes about your progress. By keeping your employer up to date on your medical condition, they’ll be better prepared for your return, including preparing a light-duty position for you either temporarily or permanently depending on the severity of your injury, or accommodating any medical restrictions your doctor recommended.
Remember, keeping in close contact with your employer doesn’t mean they are allowed to pressure you to return to work before you are able. If your employer pressures you to return to work before you’re ready, you should tell your workers’ compensation attorney in New Haven.
Carefully Examine Your Notice to Return to Work Form
Once your treating doctor determines that you’re able to return to the job, you’ll receive a “Notice of Return to Work” form. It’s important to read it carefully because this form includes any medical restrictions or modifications your doctor recommends for your return. It also has a description of your injury and the progress you’ve made in your recovery. If you don’t feel ready to return in the recommended capacity, contact your workers’ compensation attorney and your doctor. In some cases, the return to work notice is automatically triggered by a doctor’s noted improvement in your medical condition, but your doctor may not have meant that your injury has improved enough for you to return immediately. If your doctor determines that you risk reinjury or complications by returning too soon, you can appeal the decision with a hearing.
Ask Your Treating Doctor to Clarify any Work Restrictions Placed on Your Return
Your doctor may clear you to return to work under the condition that you and your employer follow specific work restrictions. Work restrictions may be temporary or permanent depending on the type of injury you sustained. Work restrictions indicate key differences between your daily duties before the injury and now that you’re able to return. Some common examples of work restrictions after a workers’ compensation claim include:
No heavy lifting
Sedentary work only
Avoiding kneeling, squatting, or other specific movements
Avoiding repetitive motions
Avoiding uneven ground surfaces
Modified work or work schedule
Emotional restrictions (common for first responders with PTSD)
Before you return to the job, you may need clarification about any of the work restrictions you’ve been placed under. For example, your doctor can tell you how much weight you’re allowed to lift and what constitutes “heavy lifting.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Your Employer for Accommodations
Even if you’ve been fully cleared to return to work without restrictions if you don’t feel entirely well or you’re worried about reinjuring yourself or causing increased pain, you can still ask your employer to make accommodations for you. You always have the right to ask an employer to make your workplace safe and more accessible to you in your current condition. Many employers have Return to Work or reintegration programs in their HR departments that can help you to return to work with modifications that for a period of time followed by a slow return to your full duties in your previous capacity.
Know Your Own Limits
Once you’ve gone back to work in your full capacity or with modified duties, it pays to listen to your own body and take breaks when you need to. If you begin to feel a strain or increased pain, talk to your employer and your doctor about lightening your duties or workload temporarily to avoid reinjuring yourself. Don’t expect to immediately become as productive as you were before the injury, but instead, plan to build back up to your former work level slowly but steadily.
Know What to Do If Your Employer Doesn’t Abide by Your Doctor-Recommended Restrictions or Modifications
If this situation arises at work, don’t voluntarily leave or refuse to come back to the job, since this could result in losing your right to future workers’ compensation benefits. Instead, notify the insurance adjuster in charge of your case, your doctor, and your attorney to inform them that your employer is refusing the recommended restrictions or modifications. If your employer sends you home because they can’t accommodate you, they will have to inform the insurance carrier that they don’t have light-duty options for you or cannot implement a plan to accommodate your work restrictions. This may result in a return of your benefits until you reach maximum improvement.
Ask Your Workers’ Compensation Insurance Adjuster About Temporary Partial Disability Payments
If your light-duty work or modified hours results in a wage loss of over 20%, ask your attorney and the insurance adjuster assigned to your case about receiving temporary partial disability payments to make up the difference in your pay until you are physically able to return to work in your previous capacity.