Can your employer force you to return to work before you are fully recovered from your on-the-job injury?
Injured workers are already under an incredible amount of pressure – recovering from an injury, keeping doctor’s appointments, a reduction in wages (workers’ comp only pays 2/3 of your average weekly wage), and feeling like you should be working even though your doctor says you need to wait.
If your boss is pushing you to come back to work before you are ready, you may be wondering – can you be fired if you don’t return to work? Is your boss justified in asking you to come back to work?
Below, we will answer some common questions that injured employees have when their employer is pushing them to return to work too soon, including:
- Who decides when you are ready to return to work,
- Why you should wait until your doctor clears you to return,
- Whether you can be fired after filing a workers’ comp claim, and
- Your responsibilities – what you need to do to protect your rights as an injured employee.
Can Your Employer Force You to Return to Work Too Soon?
Your employer does not have the right to force an injured employee back to work before they have been cleared to return. Who does decide when you should go back to work, and why should you wait until your injuries have healed?
Who Decides When You are Ready to Return to Work?
No one can force you to return to your job until your doctors clear you to go back to work.
Your doctor may clear you to return to your regular work duties, or you could be cleared to return to work on light duty with certain restrictions.
Why should you refuse to return to work if you are not ready?
First, your benefits may end because you returned to work, and, although you may be able to get your benefits reinstated if you must leave the job again due to your injuries, it will complicate matters.
Once you have begun receiving temporary benefits, your payments can only be terminated if:
- You return to work or agree that you can return to work,
- Your employer has good faith grounds to deny your claim,
- Your doctor releases you to work without restriction or with limitations,
- You refuse medical treatment, or
- You have reached maximum medical improvement.
If you return to work before you have healed, it only benefits your employer and their insurance company – because they can now terminate your workers’ comp benefits.
What are the Risks of Returning to Work too Soon?
If you return to work too soon, it could make your injuries worse – you could be reinjured, or it may prevent a full recovery.
You have the choice to return to your job early. Your employer, however, cannot make that choice for you, and they have no right to badger you or attempt to force you to come back before you are ready and able.
If you are physically able to return to work, you want to return to work, and you do not think it will worsen your injuries, you can go back to your job even if your doctors have not cleared you. If you find that you were wrong, and your injuries prevent you from doing your job, you may be able to get your benefits reinstated.
Does Your Employer Have to Keep Your Job Open for You?
Your employer is not required to keep your job open for you, but, in most cases, they are required to continue paying workers’ compensation benefits if you are laid off or terminated.
If you return to work for a different employer, or if you return to work at the same employer but at a different rate of pay because your work injuries prevent you from performing the same job tasks, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for the difference in your wages that you can earn now and the wages you could earn before the injury.
Can You be Fired After Firing a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
- Willfully being late for work or not showing up for work,
- Being drunk, high, or disorderly at work,
- Destroying property at your job,
- Not meeting your employer’s work standards,
- Malingering, or pretending to be hurt when you are not,
- Stealing your employer’s property, or
- Violating a written company policy when the policy says termination is a consequence.
You can also be terminated if you are receiving total and permanent disability. If you have reached maximum medical improvement and you are not 100% disabled, your employer must allow you to continue to work while making reasonable accommodations for your disability unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer.
What are Your Responsibilities After Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim?
To preserve your rights under SC’s workers’ compensation laws, you have some responsibilities including:
- Notifying your employer of your injuries within the deadline,
- Filing your workers’ compensation claim within the deadline,
- Keeping your employer informed of your status, and
- Cooperating with your doctor’s treatment plan and making all appointments.
Depending on the facts of your case, you may also need to request hearings to contest the insurance company’s denial of your claim, the insurance company’s refusal to pay the full benefits that you are entitled to receive, early termination of your benefits, or to resolve other disputes with your employer’s insurance company.
Your Myrtle Beach worker’s compensation lawyer on the Axelrod team will help you to file your claim, determine how long your workers’ compensation benefits may last, and represent you before the workers’ compensation commission for any hearings and appeals.