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Return To Work

Returning to work safely and promptly after sustaining an on-the-job injury can do wonders for your recovery from a medical and financial perspective. The key is getting back to work—when possible—in   a way that best suits your needs. In order to do so, you must work closely with your doctor and employer as well as the claims adjustor for your case. In addition, it is imperative to have an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer on your side to ensure you receive the full range of benefits to which you are entitled. 

Returning to Work

You and your attorney must have open lines of communication with your employer, physician and the claims adjustor to expedite your return to work effectively. Everyone must be on the same page about the following:

  • Your job duties prior to your injury.
  • Your medical condition and the type of work you are capable of performing post-injury.
  • The kinds of work your employer can offer you.

Reporting on Your Condition

The doctor who treats you for your workplace injury will send a report to the claims administrator about what was discovered during the medical examination. In this report the doctor will outline any work restrictions (limitations to your job duties). The goal here is to protect you from further injury. The doctor will also list any necessary changes to your work schedule, assignments, equipment used, etc.

Work with Restrictions

If your doctor has listed any work restrictions, your employer must—as much as possible—adhere to them.  If your employer cannot comply, you are not required to work.

Work Without Restrictions

If your doctor’s report states that you can resume or return to work without restrictions, your employer must, generally, offer you the same job and pay rate you had prior to your injury.

No Meeting of the Minds

When there are restrictions, it is best to work with your employer to make sure the conditions are met. You are not obligated to accept a position that doesn’t meet the restrictions. If you don’t accept the new position, explain to your employer why you feel it doesn’t meet the limitations set forth by your doctor. As with everything in a Workers’ Compensation case, make sure you document your reasons in writing, give one copy to your employer and keep a copy for yourself.

California Labor Code Section 132a prohibits discrimination against injured workers. If your employer takes or threatens to take action against you for refusing to take the work assignment, contact your attorney immediately.  You are entitled to temporary total disability benefits if your employer can’t provide a job that meets the work restrictions.  

When There Is No Full Recovery

If your doctor feels that you will not be able to return to the same pre-injury job and working conditions, a written report should be provided, including permanent work restrictions, so that you can protect yourself from re-injury.

For Dates of Injury After January 1, 2013

If you don’t fully recover from your workplace injury (and your injury occurred in 2013 or later), your employer may offer you a job that you are able to perform if that job:

  • Meets the work restrictions in your physician’s report.
  • Lasts at least 12 months.
  • Is within a reasonable commuting distance from where you lived when you were injured.

That offer could involve one of the following opportunities:

  • Regular work—what you were doing at the time of your injury, complete with the same pay and benefits.
  • Modified work—your “regular” job but with restrictions as outlined by your doctor. The pay and benefits must be at least 85 percent of what you received at the time of your injury.
  • Alternative work—a different type of job, but one that meets your doctor’s work restrictions. The pay and benefits must be at least 85 percent of what you received at the time of your injury.

There are strict timelines involved, so it is best to speak with your attorney about such an opportunity.

If you are not offered work and your injury causes you permanent partial disability, you may qualify for a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB). This benefit—in the form of a $6,000 voucher for all permanent disability ratings—can be used for training at a California public school or any other provider listed on the state’s Eligible Training Provider List.  The voucher can also be used for:

  • Paying licensing or certification and testing fees.
  • Purchasing tools required by a training course.
  • Computer equipment up to $1,000.
  • Reimbursing up to $500 in miscellaneous expenses.

In addition, if you were injured during this time frame (on or after January 1, 2013) and have received a $6,000 SJDB for this injury, you may be eligible to receive a share of the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Return-to-Work Supplement Fund.

The fund provides each eligible injured worker with $5,000 to be used in any way the worker chooses, such as:

  • Paying past-due bills.
  • Taking care of credit card debt.
  • Repaying loans.
  • Putting it in savings.

Receiving such a benefit is not a given, however. Injured workers must apply online. Each application will be reviewed, and a determination as to eligibility will be made within 60 days from receipt of the application. If it is determined that the injured worker is eligible, the payment will be made within 25 days of that decision.

From Dates of Injury from 2004 through 2012

If you don’t fully recover from your workplace injury (and your injury occurred in between 2004 and 2012), your employer may offer you a job that you are able to perform if that job:

  • Meets the work restrictions in your physician’s report.
  • Lasts at least 12 months.
  • Pays at least 85 percent of the wages and benefits you received at the time of your injury.
  • Is within a reasonable commuting distance from where you lived when you were injured.

That offer could involve one of the following two opportunities:

  • Modified work—your “regular” job but with restrictions as outlined by your doctor.
  • Alternative work—a different type of job, but one that meets your doctor’s work restrictions.

There are strict timelines involved, so it is best to speak with your attorney about such an opportunity.

If you were not offered work and your injury causes permanent partial disability you may be eligible for a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB). This benefit, which comes in the form of a voucher that ranges in amount from $4,000 to $10,000, depending on the permanent disability level, can be used for:

  • Paying for educational retraining and/or skill enhancement at state-approved or state-accredited schools.
  • School tuition, fees, books and expenses required for the training.

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