After any injury, recovery is very important. When it’s a work injury, you will understandably want to make sure you’re well enough before returning to the regular duties of your job—especially if your job puts you at risk of reinjury. Unfortunately, employers and their insurance companies will try to get you back on-the-job as soon as possible, especially when you are receiving workers’ compensation.
As an employee, you probably have the legal right to workers’ compensation benefits if you were hurt at work. But what happens if your workers’ compensation ends? Do you have to go back to work after that?
What to Know About Returning to Work After Receiving Workers’ Compensation
It can be very hard to know when is the best time to return to work after being injured on the job. It also doesn’t help that your employer (and their insurance company) will likely pressure you to return sooner rather than later. They have a financial incentive to get you back on-the-job quickly, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you.
There is no best time period for going back to work in a workers’ compensation case, as one worker’s situation can be vastly different from the next. However, you should be careful not to return to work too soon—and that decision will depend on your physical state and the opinion of your doctor, not your employer or the insurance company.
Ultimately, the best choice is to return to work only after your doctor has cleared you to do so. They will determine when you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), as stated, at which your condition cannot improve with further medical treatment. You will then be evaluated for a permanent disability, which may qualify you for further benefits.
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What If Your Workers’ Compensation Ends? Do You Have to Go Back to Work?
In Georgia, when you are unable to work for at least seven days because of a work injury, you are entitled to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits (Georgia Code § 34-9-220):
- TTD is weekly payments worth about two-thirds of your average weekly wage (up to $675 per week).
- These benefits can be provided for up to 400 weeks, although most workers do not receive them for that long.
- The main purpose of TTD is to supplement your income while you are getting treated for your injuries.
These benefits typically continue until you are well enough to return to work, then they end. So, ideally, your workers’ compensation would not end until you go back to work and start making money again.
Your employer may terminate your benefits if you reach a maximum of 400 weeks, but most employees are able to return to work well before that limit. In addition, if you are still not recovered enough to go back to work at that point, you likely have a permanent disability that prevents you from working in the same capacity (or at all). A permanent disability will qualify you for further workers’ compensation benefits.
You May Feel Pressure to Return to Work Too Soon
We hear from many injured workers that they felt pressure to come back to work before they were fully physically able. Plus, you will have to choose a doctor from a panel provided by your employer and associated with the workers’ comp insurance company. This opens up the potential for a biased evaluation of your condition.
If you feel pushed to come back to work before you’re ready, contact a workers’ compensation lawyer right away. You should not have to return to your job before you are actually well enough to do so. An experienced lawyer can represent you and help protect your legal rights.
Your lawyer can also help you seek a second opinion if you do not agree with your doctor’s conclusion about your ability to go back to work.
Returning to a Lighter Duty Job After Your Injury
Sometimes, a work injury may prevent you from working as you did before your work accident. Your doctor might clear you to go back to work, but with certain restrictions. Your employer may offer you a different position (a “light duty job”) within the company or given certain accommodations to account for your limitations.
Before 2013, the insurance company could stop providing workers’ compensation benefits when you were offered a light-duty job. However, if you were not able to do that job and had to stop within 15 days, your workers’ comp benefits would be reinstated.
Now, according to Georgia Code § 34-9-240, the insurance company can immediately suspend your benefits if you refuse to try a limited duty job that is offered to you. If you have to stop the job before 15 days of work have passed, the insurance company must restart your benefits right away. The insurer can contest this rule, but they will have to file for a hearing and you can receive your benefits before the court date happens.
Not Taking a Light Duty Job Could Lose You Any Benefits
It’s usually best for you to accept a light-duty job when it’s offered to you. If you do not try the job, you may be left without any income until you are able to see a judge several months later.
While working the light-duty job, you will also receive full pay (versus the reduced income from workers’ compensation). However, you will also likely receive temporary partial disability benefits if the new job pays less than your previous one. The amount of these benefits would be two-thirds of the difference between your former pay and current pay, up to a max of $450 per week.
Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Georgia for Free Today
You should not have to go back to work until you are fully physically able to perform the duties of your job. Your workers’ compensation should also not end until you are able to return to work. However, employers and their insurance companies often make the situation too complicated and pressure you into returning too soon.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can make sure you are treated fairly as you recover from your work injuries. John Foy & Associates can make sure your rights are protected throughout the entire process. To get a FREE consultation and discuss the details of your case, call us today at (404) 400-4000 or contact us online.