Following a serious workplace injury, employees who receive workers’ compensation are likely to be out of work for an extended period of time during recovery.
Once a claimant’s recovery process is completed or near completion, those without serious disabling injuries may be advised and/or ordered by their physician to prepare to return to work, even if they are not necessarily ready to do so.
Ultimately, whether or not a claimant chooses to return to work is up to them, but failure to adhere to the rules, procedures and restrictions governing re-entry can result in the termination of both their workers’ compensation benefits and their employment.
For a smooth transition back from worker’s compensation, it’s important to understand the steps, policies, and rules claimants must adhere to when returning to work.
When Do I Have to Return to Work?
The most important component of any workplace injury, for both the injured employee and employer, is recovery. As such, employees on workers’ compensation will be consistently evaluated by their medical provider during their recovery process.
Under Pennsylvania law, decisions regarding claimants’ overall health, recovery progress, and ability to return to work are made by a claimant’s physician. This means that both the claimant and their employer’s workers’ compensation provider are dependent upon frequent and accurate evaluations of a patient’s recovery.
Recovery progress is gauged by a metric known as Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), which occurs when an injured employee has reached a recovery plateau where their condition cannot be improved any further. For workers’ compensation claims, reaching MMI functions is an indication of a claimant’s readiness to return to work.
However, not all instances of MMI are equal. There are a series of continuing disability determinations that can be made by a physician once a claimant reaches MMI.
For example, if an injury is considered to be permanently disabling, it is very possible that claimant has completed their recovery but will never be able to return to work at all. In other instances, physicians may consider injuries to be only temporarily or partially disabling; indicating that a claimant is ready to return to work but may need accommodations and/or workplace restrictions for some time.
These assessments are generally accompanied by a disability rating score, with injuries under 50% classified as “partially disabling” and injuries over 50% considered to be “totally disabling.” The relative permanence of a workplace disability is classified as either “permanent” or “temporary.”
In certain cases, physicians may also recommend that a claimant returns to work before reaching MMI. These recommendations will generally be made alongside instructions for employers to place returning employees on a modified, light-duty, or stationary workload. These recommendations are typically made to assist claimants with some ability to work and the prospect of higher income than that of their workers’ compensation benefits.
Following their disability determination, a claimant’s physician should provide them and their employer, either verbally or in written form, with a Return to Work Date. It is extremely important that claimant’s report to work on their official Return to Work Date so as not to jeopardize their employment status.
However, before returning to work, claimants must also be provided a Notice of Ability to Return to Work form from their physician and an offer from their employer.
How Do I Return to Work?
There are a few key steps, policies and rules which claimants must follow before they return to work.
1. Communicate with Your Employer
It is strongly recommended that employees seeking to return to their previous positions keep in constant communication with their employers regarding their treatment status and estimated return to work dates.
This will enable employers to feel confident they’re not being taken advantage of and more inclined to accommodate any needs you may have upon return.
2. Sign Your Notice of Ability to Return to Work Form
As mentioned earlier, employees cleared to return to work are required by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act to be provided and sign a Notice of Ability to Return to Work form before their return.
Your physician will provide this form to both you and your employer.
3. Notify the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation About Your Return
Claimants preparing to return to work must notify the Workers’ Compensation Board of their plans to return and detail any work restrictions or special accommodations recommended by their physician.
This is especially important for partially disabled claimants, as this will enable them to continue to receive partial benefits while working.
4. Discuss Work Restrictions with Your Employer and Develop a Return to Work Plan
After being cleared to return to work, partially disabled employees should immediately notify their employer of any work restrictions or accommodations recommendations made by their physician.
The necessary accommodations will often be detailed in the Notice of Ability to Return to Work form provided to both parties.
Once your employer has been informed of your disability status and resulting work restrictions, you should begin to discuss a Return to Work Plan.
Generally speaking, a good Return to Work Plan will provide written acknowledgement of a returning employees job responsibilities, any necessary restrictions, a confirmation of existing injuries and disability status, a detailed description of any and all accommodations being provided by your employer, and a system for clear communication between your employer, yourself and your physician.
Once a return to work policy has been agreed upon by all parties, employees can feel free to return to work and get back to life as usual.
What If I’m Unable or Don’t Want to Return to My Old Position?
Depending upon the nature of your disability and workplace restrictions, Your previous job may no longer be available for you upon clearance to return to work. In that case, your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider may attempt to settle your workers’ compensation claims.
If any issues arise between yourself and your employer while receiving workers’ compensation benefits, or you simply decide you’re no longer interested or able to return to your previous position, there is technically nothing requiring you to return to work. However, it is important to note that a decision not to return to work following a physician’s order to do so is likely to result in disqualification from workers’ compensation benefits.
If you need assistance in negotiating a workers’ compensation settlement or feel as though the determination regarding your ability to return to work was made in error, contact our highly qualified team of workers’ compensation attorneys at Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo to discuss your options today.