Immediately after your workplace accident, your injuries may prevent you from returning to work in any capacity. Your doctor will have informed your employer that you are totally disabled and incapacitated from any type of work. During this period of complete disability, you will receive Temporary Total Disability Benefit payments from your employer. This period could last only a few weeks, or it could last months. In theory, it could even last years. It all depends upon the nature and serious extent of your injuries. A worker injured by a bad laceration will be able to return to work, in some capacity, much sooner than a worker who experienced a work-related heart attack and required hospitalization. This type of work is considered light duty work.
Temporary Total Disability Benefits
In the normal course of a typical workers’ compensation case, you will recover from your injuries, perhaps not fully. Perhaps slowly. But there will come a point where your doctor concludes that you can return to work in a limited capacity. You are no longer Temporarily Totally Disabled. However, you are still not at full work capacity. You cannot safely perform the duties of your old job. For example, assume that you are employed on a local dairy farm as a farmhand. Your job duties require physical activities such as bending, reaching, kneeling, and lifting more than fifty pounds of weight. You injured your neck in a slip and fall on spilled milk while on the job.
After three weeks of medical care and treatment, your doctor concludes that you are no longer totally disabled. You need to return to work. But you cannot safely lift fifty pounds of weight, and to bend over or reach for objects aggravates your neck condition. In this situation, you are a candidate for “light duty” job duties. Your doctor will need to specify your workplace restrictions in writing. Common restrictions are no lifting more than a certain amount or no prolonged standing.
Working With Your Employer
Once you have your list of restrictions from your doctor, we recommend that you do the following:
Contact your employer to apply for any kind of light duty work that your doctor will allow you to safely perform.
If your employer has light duty work available, the type of available work must meet your physical restrictions as determined by your doctor. If your employer has light duty work available, and it meets your doctor’s requirements, you must accept the work that is offered. You must accept the light duty job even if it is outside of your usual job duties. You must also accept the light duty work offered even if it pays less than what you were previously paid (you will be eligible for wage differential benefit payments). If you don’t accept light duty work offered, you will lose your eligibility for continued workers’ compensation benefits (and you may also lose your employment).
If your employer does not have light duty work available, or what they have available does not meet your physical restrictions, you are eligible to receive payments of Temporary Partial Disability Benefits (TP Benefits). Your eligibility to receive these payments will be conditioned on your performing job searches. You must search for other jobs of suitable work within your geographical area. You need not search for jobs out of your local area. You will need to submit a list of your job searches, including contact information for the potential employers, to your employer’s insurance carrier. For every week that your job search list is received, you will be paid a weekly check for Temporary Partial Disability Benefits. Your TP benefit rate will equate to your original weekly benefit rate (75% of your after-tax average weekly wages).
In the case where your employer has light duty work available, but the light duty work does not pay as much as your previous wage, you must accept the lesser paying light duty job. You are eligible to receive wage differential TP benefits to make up for the loss in your income. These TP benefits will pay you a differential wage based upon the difference between your present and former wage.
Light Duty Work and TP Benefits
You will be eligible to perform light duty job work and to receive TP benefits (either TP wage replacements conditioned upon job searches or TP differential benefits to make up for any loss in income) until your physician determines that you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement. This point, which can be one year from your date of injury, is when your doctor determines that you will not get any better from your injuries. In other words, you have fully recovered and have returned to full strength pre-injury, or you have been left with a permanent injury with permanent physical limitations.
Return to work issues can often be the source of dispute between employees and employers. Consult with our workers’ compensation lawyers to ease your transition back to work.