Even if your work injury has left you permanently disabled, you may eventually be able to return to work. You may need to work fewer hours, receive disability accommodations or have your employer make other changes to your job to help you.
However, there are some things injured workers may not know about returning to work, including whether employers are required to hold their jobs open, what happens to their benefits, and what to do after receiving an offer for light duty work.
Below, review some of the things you need to know about returning to work after suffering a work injury and being on workers’ compensation. Learning more about this issue may help you to protect your rights during this transition. If you have questions, a Richmond workers’ compensation lawyer from our firm is prepared to help.
Is Your Employer Required to Hold Your Job Open?
No, your employer is not required to hold your job open while you are unable to work because of a workplace injury. Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act also does not require employers to reinstate employees to their original position when all work restrictions have been removed.
Workers’ compensation is not the same as the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year.
However, your employer cannot fire you simply for filing a workers’ compensation claim, as that would be considered retaliation, which is illegal.
Is Your Employer Required to Offer Light Duty Work?
No, under Virginia law, your employer is not required to offer light duty work, even though he or she may do so. However, employers have an incentive to offer light duty work, because allowing the employee to return to work also reduces the employer’s payout of workers’ compensation benefits.
Light duty work is a modified version of the job you did before your injury. Light duty takes account of your physical restrictions, so there is likely to be a lot less strenuous physical activity, such as heavy lifting or reaching overhead. Light duty work may also be for fewer hours than normal.
Can My Employer Force Me to go Back to Work?
It depends on the results of your independent medical examination. If the examiner agrees with your doctor that you cannot work, you are not required to accept an offer for light duty work. However, if there is a dispute between the examiner and treating physician, your employer may file an application to terminate your benefits.
Can I Refuse an Offer of Work?
If you refuse an offer for light duty work, your workers’ compensation benefits are not protected. If you reject the offer, your employer and its insurance carrier may request a hearing to suspend or end your workers’ compensation benefits. Under state law, if you refuse an offer for employment with restrictions, you are no longer eligible for wage loss benefits.
However, make sure to get a job description for your revised duties from your employer and review it with your treating physician. He or she can determine if the offer fits within your physical capabilities. If the offer does not fit your restrictions, your benefits may still be protected even if you reject the offer.
If you receive an offer for light duty but, after returning to work, your employer asks you to do your regular job duties, it may be a bad idea. Your physical limitations may increase your risk of getting hurt again.
What Happens to My Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
If you go back to full-time work, your benefits will stop. However, if you return with restrictions, you may be eligible for temporary or permanent partial disability benefits. You will likely receive less than you did when you were not working, as you are receiving a portion of your lost earnings, and not a portion of your full earnings.
However, sometimes employers decide to pay workers at their full rate of pay even with restrictions.
Ask Our Firm for Help with Your Workers’ Compensation Claim
When you contact our firm, there is no cost or obligation to meet with one of our attorneys in an initial consultation. That means no risk to you in learning more about how we help injured workers with their workers’ compensation claims.
We are here to answer your questions, explain your rights and, if we validate your claim and you hire us, we are ready to fully manage your claim on your behalf.
Our firm has recovered millions on behalf of injured workers, including a settlement of $4.7 million for a worker who died because of an overhead crane accident.