Workers’ compensation laws are meant to help ease a wounded employee’s financial concerns. Benefits cover lost wages and medical expenses during recovery so the employee can focus on getting well. However, depending on your injuries, the duration of that recovery and the benefits that go with it may be called into question.
Preparing for Your Return
Injury assessment and independent medical examinations are important factors when determining when and how an injured employee can and should return to work. Workers’ compensation will only cover employees who are physically unable to perform their duties.
Unfortunately, ability is subjective. Your physician may conclude that your injury has healed, or at least reached a level of maximum medical improvement, indicating that no other treatment can be provided. Thus, the injury doesn't require you to stay away from work any longer. However, your doctor can’t feel any pain or discomfort that remains from your injury, and while you may feel you're not ready to perform your usual duties, your employer will take the doctor’s recommendation because he wants you back.
So where does that leave you? It means you have to speak up and discuss restrictions and limitations with your doctor.
Work Restrictions and Limitations
Just because your injury is physically better doesn’t mean you're 100 percent fit. Residual swelling and cramping may cause excruciating pain that is exacerbated by certain movements. It’s up to you to talk with your physician to develop a plan for returning to work that addresses this pain and limits aggravation. There’s no point in returning to work just to suffer the same injury again.
Depending on the degree of pain, how it manifests, and what your job entails, your doctor can decide whether to restrict your work duties. Physician work release options include:
- Full work release. The doctor confirms your injuries are healed and suggests no restrictions be applied to your work duties. Essentially, the release states that you can go back to work without the need for your employer to alter your duties.
- Work release with restrictions. The doctor confirms your injuries are healed but suggests that your employer alters your normal duties to accommodate certain limitations, usually outlined in your medical release report. For example, after you've recovered from a broken leg, the bone is mended but you still feel stiffness. Your doctor will recommend that you’re not forced to go up and down stairs.
- Work release with little-to-no restrictions. The doctor confirms your injuries are healed and suggests your employer doesn’t need to alter your work duties. However, a notation will be made that although you’ve been cleared for duty, you may still require the occasional break or need to take it easy on certain tasks on a case-by-case basis.
No matter what type of work release your physician approves, it’s important to discuss your concerns with both him and your employer before returning to work.
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