Returning to work after an injury can be stressful, especially if you don't feel 100 percent.
In fact, you might think you need more time to recover. You're unsure of your physical capabilities or you know for certain you won't be able to perform your work functions in the same way as before.
Your doctor has cleared you to try some kind of light duty work, and your employer may be pressuring you to return, but you don't feel ready. You're still dealing with pain and you worry about re-aggravating your injuries.
To ensure your rights are protected, we recommend hiring an attorney who specializes in workers' compensation claims. Workers' compensation requirements and deadlines can be complicated to navigate. A good lawyer can help.
Do I Have to Accept Light Duty?
The law that applies in this situation is O.C.G.A. Section 34-9-240, and it is also explained further in Board Rule 240.
If the authorized treating physician releases a worker to light duty after they have been disabled and have received workers' compensation checks, the employee is not required to go back to work and try the light duty job unless the employer and insurer do three things:
1. The employer/insurer has to send to the authorized treating physician a description of the light duty job to be performed- including the hours to be worked, the rate of payment, and a description of the essential tasks to be performed.
Whenever the employer/insurer sends this light duty job to the doctor, they also have to send a copy of it to the employee and the employee's attorney at the same time!If we receive a light duty job description, we immediately call our client to see if this is an accurate description of the job.
If we do not agree with the description of the light duty job, or if we have reservations about our client being able to do the job because of their injuries or medications, this gives us a chance to speak with the doctor and voice our objections.
Also, the Board Rule requires that the injured worker have been seen by the authorized doctor within the last 60 days for the doctor to have an informed opinion about the employee's work abilities.
2. The authorized doctor has to approve the light duty job for the injured worker.
If the doctor doesn't approve it, then the worker does not have to return to the light duty job.
3. If the doctor approves the light duty job, then the employer/insurer have to send the injured worker and their attorney a WC-240 Form.
This is a notice to the employee that the light duty job is being made available to them, the doctor has approved it, and this is the date, time, and place they are to report to work.This notice has to be sent with 10 days advance notice to the worker and the worker's attorney.
This is important because the last thing anyone wants is for a injured worker to be forced to return to work doing something that could risk re-injury, aggravation of the injury, or put others at risk of being hurt.
We want to know that the doctor thinks the employee can attempt the job without those risks being present.
For example, if a client of our firm is released to return to light duty work, we tell them do not go back to work until the employer/insurer comply and complete the WC 240 Form and send it to us.
What If I Try the Light Duty Job But Because of My Injuries I Can't Do It? What Happens?
Under O.C.G.A. Section 34-9-240(b)(1),
"If such employee attempts the proffered job for eight cumulative hours or one scheduled workday, whichever is greater, but is unable to perform the job for more than 15 working days, then weekly benefits shall be immediately reinstated, and the burden shall be upon the employer to prove that the employee is not entitled to continuing benefits."
This essentially means that the employee must try the light duty job in good faith. The worker has to try the job for at least 8 cumulative hours or one scheduled workday.
If the worker goes back and leaves after 4 hours because they can't do the job, the employer/insurer do not have to immediately start paying the worker their workers' compensation wage checks. More than likely, the injured worker may have to ask for a hearing to get it started.
The worker goes back and works for 16 days and then decides they can't do the job. Since the worker worked more than 15 working days, the burden shifts to the employee to prove they can't do the job and the employer/insurer do not have to immediately start paying the worker their workers' compensation wage checks.
On day three the employee just can't physically do the light duty job any more. Since it is more than 1 work day and less than 15 working days, the employer/insurer have to start paying the worker their compensation wage checks immediately.
What If I'm Released With No Restrictions?
A doctor may deem you able to work without limitations, meaning you will no longer be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. If you continue to suffer from medical issues and are worried about returning to your job, it is critical that you speak with a workers' compensation attorney!
What If My Employer Wants Me to Remove the Work Restrictions?
It's not uncommon, unfortunately, for employers to pressure their employees to go back to work sooner than they should or to have their work limitations removed. Removing work restrictions not only puts you at-risk of re-injuring yourself - if you're fired, you may not be eligible for workers' compensation benefits.
Work limitations exist to protect injured workers. Do not let a boss or anyone push you back into working at 100 percent if you don't feel 100 percent.
Pressure Is Unacceptable (and Unethical)
Remember, no two injuries are exactly alike and everyone heals at different rates. Only you know how you feel.
Employers and insurance companies have a financial interest in getting you back to work as soon as possible. They may try to pressure you into returning sooner than you'd like using threats or guilt-trips.
Ignore them and call an attorney as soon as possible. It's vital to see the healing process through to the end and wait until you are physically capable to get back to work.
A Good Workers' Compensation Attorney Can Help
If you do not feel like you are being treated fairly or the workers' compensation process is overwhelming, call us to discuss your claim.
At Gary Martin Hays & Associates, we've helped thousands of individuals put their lives back together after a work injury and made sure their employers and the insurance company treated them with dignity and respect.
Call 770-934-8000 if you have a question about your workers' compensation rights in Georgia.