What Injured Workers Need to Know Before Returning to Work

April 20, 2021

Returning to Work After an Injury

Returning to work after an injury is always difficult, especially if you’ve been away from your job for an extended period of time. Your treating doctors may tell you that you’re okay to return to work even if you don’t personally feel like you can do your job. However, when you are medically cleared to return to work, you must return to your job if requested by your employer or risk losing your workers’ compensation benefits.

If you’ve been cleared to work and requested to return by your employer, you should understand your rights and obligations and your employer’s obligations and requirements when you return to work.

When Do You Have to Go Back to Work?

Your treating doctor will usually classify you as unable to work, cleared to work with restrictions, or cleared to full duty with no restrictions. Your physician may also have an expected return-to-service date, which will update as your treatment progresses.

Depending on the kind of work you do, you may be kept out of work until you are cleared to work without restrictions or until you reach maximum medical improvement–the point at which no further treatment will improve your condition. However, your physician sometimes clears you to return to work with light or restricted duty.

It is important that you know what your return-to-work date is and whether you’ve been cleared to return to work, even with restrictions. If your doctor clears you to go back to work, you are required to immediately notify your employer and report to work on the day requested by your employer after you’ve been cleared.

What Are Your Work Restrictions?

When your doctor approves you to return to work, you should fully understand what physical restrictions, if any, your doctor recommends for you. Be sure to get a full list of your work restrictions in writing and provide a copy of this list to your employer.

If your employer requests you to perform duties outside your restrictions, you have the right to refuse. But if you refuse assignments or quit your job because of assignments that are within your restrictions, you can lose your right to workers’ compensation benefits and even unemployment compensation. Having a full written list of your restrictions ensures there is no confusion about what you can and cannot do when you go back to work.

What is Your Employer’s Return-to-Work Policy?

Your employer may have a return-to-work policy, which is intended to help employees transition back into the workplace as a productive employee. At a minimum, your employer’s return-to-work policy should include:

  • Processes to ensure that your employer and your supervisors understand the extent of your injuries and your physical work limitations
  • Provision of reasonable accommodations to allow you to return to work without aggravating your injury or conditions or causing you pain or discomfort
  • Open lines of communication among yourself, your physician, and your employer to ensure you can return to your duties as efficiently as possible when you are medically able to do so

Your employer’s return-to-work policy may provide that you can be placed in a lower paying position if it is consistent with your work restrictions. Workers’ compensation provides a partial replacement of the difference in your wages, but if you refuse the lower paying position you can render yourself ineligible for workers’ comp altogether.

Can You Be Terminated after a Work Injury?

Yes. Although you cannot be terminated in retaliation for requesting workers’ compensation benefits, your employer’s obligation to allow you to return to work only extends so far as the employer still has a position available for you to return. Your employer may have had to transfer or hire someone to perform your duties while you were out of work. Your employer may be required to hold your position for you under certain circumstances, such as if you take FMLA leave. This is why it is critical to have a workers’ compensation attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that you are fully compensated no matter what happens once you are cleared to return to work.

Contact a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyer to Discuss Your New Jersey Workplace Injury Claim.

A workplace injury can be devastating, particularly if it prevents you from returning to work for an extended period of time. Although New Jersey Workers’ Compensation laws are supposed to provide you with reimbursement for medical expenses and replacement pay for missed time at work, it is not always easy to get the Workers’ Comp benefits you deserve. That is why you should speak with a knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation lawyer about your situation and get guidance throughout the claims process. The experienced Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Kalavruzos, Mumola, Hartman, Lento & Duff, LLC represent clients in Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, Princeton, and all across New Jersey. Call (609) 586-9000 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free consultation about your work injury case. Our main office is located at 2681 Quakerbridge Rd., Hamilton, NJ 08619.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.