Return to Work And Workers’ Compensation: What You Need To Know

Many Injured Workers, after they have recovered from their industrial injuries, are “returned to work” by their doctors. This “Return To Work” can occur in a variety of ways.   This article is intended to discuss the ways that Injured Workers are returned to work after their workers’ compensation injury claim.

How Does an Injured Worker Get Returned to Work? 


Generally, an Injured Worker is returned to work by their Primary Treating Physician. This return to work in a variety of ways.  This can depend on the Injured Worker’s Medical Status.  There can be a Return to Work on a temporary basis. There can be a Return to Work on a permanent basis. There can be a Return To Work with limitations and/or restrictions on a temporary basis. There can be a Return To Work with limitations and/or restrictions on a permanent basis. There can be a Return To Work with no limitations.

Return to Work issues can also arise when a Qualified Medical Evaluator or an Agreed Medical Evaluator opines on the Injured Worker’s ability to return to work.

When Does an Injured Worker Get Returned to Work? 


In Workers’ Compensation, when an Injured Worker has an acute injury, illness or condition, an Injured Worker will be sent for medical treatment.   The Treating Physician, as part of their duties, has an obligation to address the Injured Worker’s ability to return to work.   In sum, after seeing a Treating Physician, the Injured Worker will be provided a disability slip.   The disability slip, if it does not take the Injured Worker off of work, will provide “return to work” instructions to the Employer.

The Physician’s motivation returning the Injured Worker back to work can be multi-factorial.  There can be pressure from the Employer on the Physician to return the Injured Worker back to the job.   There can be pressure from the Insurance Company on the Physician to return the Injured worker back to the job.   Sometimes, there can be pressure from the Injured Worker on the Physician to return back to the job.

Whose Medical Reporting is to be Honored? 


This is truly an issue of controversy.   Within Workers’ Compensation Law, Treating Physician’s reporting and Qualified Medical Evaluator reporting are given equal weight.   Within the Workers’ Compensation Law, only an Agreed Medical Evaluator carries a greater weight over another reporting physician.

Many Employers have different policies as to which Physician’s Return to Work orders.   Some Employers only accept certain Physician’s Reporting. For example, some Employers will only honor the reporting of the physician who took them off of work with respect to a “return to work” slip.  Sometimes, there may be a union contract or memorandum of understanding that can dictate which doctor’s note will be honored. As a result of this lack of clarity, there can be conflict as far as an Injured Worker’s return to work. An employer can rely on one physician’s opinion while an employee can rely on another physician’s opinion.   These disputes can spill out of the area of workers’ compensation into other areas of employment law.

What are the Varieties of “Return to Work” Options that Can Occur? 


There are many ways of how Injured Workers are returned to work.   These include Return to Full Duty/Regular Work, a Return to Light Duty, a Return to Modified Duty, a Return to Alternative Work, and a Return to Reduced Hours.

  • Return To Full Duty/Regular Work: A Return to Full Duty/Regular Work implies that the Injured Worker can return to their job with no restrictions. Full duty means that employee’s usual occupation or the position in which the employee was engaged at the time of injury.
  • Return to Light Duty:  A Return to Light Duty implies that the Injured Worker can perform activities with minimal physical demands.
  • Return to Modified Duty: A Return to Modified Duty can include various work restrictions or limitations.
  • Return to Alternative Work:  A Return to Alternative Work implies that the Injured Worker will return to perform work entirely different from their usual and customary occupation.   For example, an outside Maintenance Worker can be provided work inside an office answering phones.
  • Return to Full Duty with Reduced Hours:   A Return to Full Duty with Reduced Hours implies that the Injured Worker can perform their usual and customary occupation without limitations.   The only condition, however, is that they cannot do it for an entire work day.   For example, a typist can be returned to that position but only for 4 hours out of an 8-hour job.

Is there Any Legal Importance in Workers’ Compensation to Being Returned to Work? 


If there is a failure of the Employer/Insurance Company in offering regular, modified, or alternative work within 60 days after the Insurance Company received the Physician’s Return to Work & Voucher Report, then the Injured Worker may be entitled to a Supplemental Job Displacement Nontransferable Voucher Form.   This can also include an additional Displacement Benefit from the State of California.

If I am Having Trouble With My Employer Returning Me Back to Work, What Should I Do? 


Industrially Injured Workers are afforded a variety of protections from discrimination.  Worker’ Compensation Law provides for protection from discrimination pursuant to Labor Code Section 132a.   In addition to Workers’ Compensation Law, Injured Workers also have protections under the American with Disabilities Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act.  If the Injured Worker is a member of a Union, there may be some recourse within the union contract or memorandum of understanding.

In sum, if an Injured Worker is having problems with respect to returning to work, consultations with both workers’ compensation attorneys and employment law attorneys may be indicated.

What If I Need Advice? 


If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.