Studies show the longer workers are away from their jobs, the harder it is to return to their previous duties. Although your doctor may say you’ve reached a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI), you may not feel you’re ready to return to your previous full-time job.
Once you reach MMI, your treating physician will complete a Return to Work form. The form notifies your employer and the workers’ compensation representative that you’re cleared to return to work. Depending upon your health status, your physician may order lighter work duties while your injuries continue to heal. Your employer should implement the company’s return to work policy according to your physician’s orders.
An effective return to work policy includes:
- Confirmation that your employer understands the nature and extent of your injuries, and your present physical limitations
- A plan to provide reasonable accommodations to permit you to transition back to work safely, free from unnecessary pain and discomfort
- Open communication between you, your employer, and your treating physician, to expedite your return to your former work duties as soon as medically advisable
A return to work policy is intended to provide a transition period for you to return to work and eventually become fully productive at your former job. If you are partially disabled from your on-the-job injury, it’s especially important to establish a work plan with your employer as soon as possible. You want to assure your employer you can still be a productive employee and not a financial burden.
The workers’ comp representative and your physician may work closely with your employer. They can help find a position to accommodate your restricted duty, and determine whether that duty is temporary or permanent.
If your treating physician clears you to return to work with restrictions that place you in a lower paying position, workers’ comp may reimburse you for a portion of the difference in pay (until you can return to your previous job). This benefit is not available if you refuse to accept the restrictive work duties or new position offered as part of the return to work policy.
Be sure to notify the workers’ comp representative as soon as you’re cleared by your physician to return to work. If you continue to receive workers’ comp payments after being cleared, you may have to repay the insurance company for those overpayments.
Example: Successfully returning to work after injury
Jake broke his tibia and fibula while working as a cargo handler for a national airline. His injury was debilitating, requiring extensive medical and chiropractic treatment. Several months later, Jake’s physician determined he’d reached a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI), and said he could return to work under restricted duty. His physician completed a Release to Return to Work form (example), which Jake gave to his employer.
Jake’s employer had a plan in place for his return. It required Jake’s supervisor to confer with his physician so he could understand Jake’s present condition, including any limitations or restrictions. The plan also required Jake’s supervisor to do everything possible to reassign Jake to work suited to his physical limitations.
Through conversations with the physician and Jake, his supervisor determined that Jake would probably be able to return to his full-time duties within a month or so. In the meantime, Jake would continue his physical therapy. Following company policy, Jake’s supervisor offered him an available position in the lost luggage department. Jake’s duties would keep him off his feet while he continued to recover; however, the job paid less than his former position.
Jake accepted the position and reported for work. He told his workers’ comp representative about his new position and requested benefits to pay him the difference in wages. Jake also requested payment for his continuing therapy. He received both.
Jake worked in the lost baggage department for the next month. After a subsequent conference with Jake and his physician, his supervisor learned Jake had completed his physical therapy and was ready to return to his former position. Jake reported to his old job the next day. He then notified workers’ comp that he was back full-time and at full wages.
Can you be fired after an injury?
Sometimes employers can’t provide returning employees with their previous job or pay. Absent a contract of employment, injured employees whose previous job position isn’t available may have no alternative but to seek employment elsewhere.
In most cases, your employer is not bound to continue your employment if you can’t return to your former job duties, or there isn’t another suitable job available. If your employer doesn’t have another position for you while you continue to heal, workers’ comp may provide you with vocational rehabilitation. They will retrain you for a job which accommodates your physical condition.
Most large employers have written employee manuals setting out the guidelines for post-injury return to work procedures, but employee manuals are not required for all companies.
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Visitor Questions on Return to Work Policy
I am working in pain after work-related injury… I hurt my left shoulder at my job last year and I haven’t been right since. I had surgery for my injury in October and did physical therapy for 2 days a week for 2 months, then switched to one day until March 28th. I was on workers comp as well during that time. I returned... Read More >>
What do I need to do after back injury at work? I hurt my back on 4/15/17 at work. I took physical therapy like cup, acupuncture, and massage. I also took time off and received workers compensation pay. When I took an MRI of my spine, it showed some problems as I stated. I don’t know how long it will take to heal. I have a... Read More >>
Can’t return to work after surgery? I am a truck driver, and I have worked for the same trucking company in Washington State for 28 years. In September 2015 while at work I injured my knee stepping off the back of a trailer. The injuries were to my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), to my meniscus ligament, and to my medial collateral ligament... Read More >>
Released back to work but manager won’t put me on the schedule? I work for a kennel called the Canine Cabana. I was hurt at work while out in the yard with a group of dogs. I was tripped by a long line (an extended leash) in the yard. The fall landed me on my elbow and wrist. I was out of work for a month and a... Read More >>
Workers’ comp for US Citizens working for a foreign government in the USA? My friend worked for the Consolate office of a foreign government. She is a US Citizen and was employed in the US. She was injured on the job, and received Worker’s Comp benefits for a while after the injury. Before receiving all the necessary treatments, and before being cleared by her doctor, she was ordered... Read More >>
Ordered back to work on light duty, but still not medically ready? My daughter, who is a firefighter healing from a second shoulder surgery for a fall through a burning ceiling, has had pressure put on her (and her doctor) for her to return to work before the usual healing time of 12 weeks. There is also a secondary injury that has not been addressed. The surgeon... Read More >>
Not allowed to work with restrictions? I have a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I started having problems due to the disability. My doctor requested a 40 hour work week and no heavy lifting. Shortly after that I found out I was pregnant – the pregnancy doctor requested the same. I was told by my work they... Read More >>
Do medical benefits continue if I change employers while off on a claim? I am a police officer and broke my foot while in a foot pursuit after a criminal. I have been off for about 8 weeks healing, wearing a boot to stabilize my broken foot. I have been offered a job in the banking industry, where I can work while I am in the boot healing.... Read More >>
Accommodation after work injury? I was injured at work when a pile of books fell on both of my feet. After wearing a brace on one foot and an aircast on the other, and going to PT, I was eventually put on duty by my employer’s doctor for 3 days a week. I was progressing well on this schedule,... Read More >>
Does employer have to give me work when I’m released from treatment? Does my employer have to put me back to work me after I am cleared to go back to work? I am in a union and I get paid by the hour. Can they not employ me, and simply tell me there is no work? I did get hurt working for them. Aren’t they obligated... Read More >>
Returning to work after total temporary disability? I hurt my back at work two years ago and am currently still receiving treatment and out of work on total temporary disability. I was wondering how would the return to work will go. If I find a job that does not aggravate my injuries, can I return to work and still receive treatment? Or... Read More >>
Cleared by doctor for light duty, but employer won’t let me work? I had surgery in June 2014 on my right shoulder, and was told in September 2014 by my Dr. I could return to work with light duty. My place of work said they did not have any work for me that was light duty. I returned to the Dr. the following month and was still... Read More >>
Employer would not allow me to return to work with restrictions? I work for a large company. The company would not allow me to come back to work after my doctor released me with restrictions from a serious health condition for which I was on FMLA. The restrictions did not interfere with my work, and I did not need any accommodations. The employer delayed my return... Read More >>
Forced to take lower paying job after work injury? I was hurt on the job in 2002, due to my manager not replacing a roller on a big tool bow in the back of a company truck. I asked him to have it repaired due to me having to move approx. 500 pounds or so every time I pulled it out or pushed it... Read More >>
Restrictions for job duties and having to change shift? I recently injured my wrist at work. I am a “utility”, therefore my position has many different responsibilities, or different jobs that I have to be able to do. I have been trained in five of the required seven jobs as a utility. One of the jobs is as a press operator, where the injury... Read More >>
Can an employee be terminated after being deemed permanently disabled? Our employee was working in our fleet department and injured his back. He was out of work for a year, during which he had a surgery and extensive rehab. He finally returned to work light duty, and we placed him in another position as his original position did not meet his restrictions. Now his doctor... Read More >>
Can an employer stop accomodating a worker’s lifting restrictions? I sustained a worker’s comp injury (fracture) five years ago. As a result, a 25 pound restriction on lifting, pushing and pulling was made. My job description notes a 50 pound requirement. I never missed any work from this injury, despite pain and inability to lift, push or pull more than 25 pounds. My employer... Read More >>
Can I return to work after an injury without being cleared by a doctor? I cut myself at work and had to get stitches. It is a holiday weekend and I would like to get back to work (I am a server in a restaurant) but I can’t see a doctor until after the holiday. I feel I can do my job. What would happen if I returned without... Read More >>
Forced to work after injury? I was injured at work resulting in two surgeries, carpal tunnel release and lateral epicond surgery. I had an EMG test on my arm and showed moderate to severe nerve damage from the injury. I also had an MRI on my shoulder and it came back okay. I still have extreme nerve pain all up... Read More >>
Stuck on “light work” 6 months after full recovery? I work and live in Florida. Before I was hurt, I worked 5 days a week, approx. 30-40 hours as a poker dealer. I averaged $25-30 per hour in tips as well as $4.71/hr. One night I fell in the hallway in the back and injured my right wrist. I was sent home, went to... Read More >>
Returning to work with restrictions? I fell at work and suffered a non-displaced fracture of my left proximal humerus. I’ve been on workers compensation for 7 weeks. My doctor cleared me to return to work with no heavy lifting and no reaching with my left arm. I got a prescription to begin physical therapy 2x per week for 6 weeks.... Read More >>
No Impairment Rating with MMI? My husband was injured on the job (through no fault of his own – which has been verified). He received a concussion, small laceration on back of head and a C-5/6 spine fracture. No surgery was required for anything, but he did have to wear a neck brace for 5 months, went through MRI’s, CT... Read More >>
Can I reopen a claim at a previous job? I filed a workers comp claim against my employer. They honored my bills and lost pay. I went to a doctor and he put me off work for a few weeks. I wanted a disability settlement that they would not offer. They sent me to one of their doctors and he examined me and ordered... Read More >>
Hours cut after injury? I was working lifting garage doors on top of trucks and injured my wrist. I’m still going to physical therapy (since mid january). My employer cut my hours from 30 to 25 a week – it might not sound like much but it is. They said since I’m part time I’m not promised hours, but... Read More >>
What are my rights after returning to work? I was hurt on the job and was wondering what my rights are after my return to work. The company wants to reassess my current position and maybe change my responsibilities. They either want me to do more than what the doctor said I could, transfer me to a different location, or leave company. Can... Read More >>
Employer Allowed Me to Return to Work Full Duty Without a Doctor’s Note… I was out of work a short time about 1 year ago due to Spondylolisthesis in my lumbar spine. I work in a field that requires a lot of lifting, turning, etc. I was eventually able to return to work on light duty – only lifting up to 5 lbs. My back began to feel... Read More >>
Work Restrictions and Short Term Disability… I am working light duty in a factory because of a work related injury. I have permanent restrictions that prohibit me from doing repetitive work. I was asked to do janitor work, meaning mopping large areas, scrubbing sinks, and pushing carts full of supplies. I questioned my boss about the job, suggesting it was violating... Read More >>
Can my boss prevent me from working with crutches? I hurt my left ankle a week ago outside of work. I am now in a air-cast and crutches. I have no insurance so everything is coming out of my pocket. So far, I’ve paid over $1,000 in medical bills and have $300 in lost wages due to my employer refusing to let me work... Read More >>
Losing work hours after injury… In June 2011 I fell and broke my wrist. My bosses were very good about time off that I needed to recover. I have no health insurance. They said they would not hire any new person to cover my shifts but would only use existing employees. That gave me the opportunity to “patient pay” at... Read More >>
Will working affect workmans comp benefits? I was at work when I stepped on a retaining wall and it fell in. I called my boss and told her I was hurt and I was going home. She told me to go back and finish the job then I could go home. I tried to finish the job but the pain got... Read More >>
Broken Arm Affecting Work Hours… I broke my arm from an injury outside of work. I went back to work only to find my hours were significantly cut. They just hired on a new employee and said I am “extra” and they will try to work me onto the schedule when they can. Obviously I’m not on workers compensation or... Read More >>
How does workers comp work with mileage reimbursement? I’m on workers comp after a slip and fall. My wages include mileage reimbursement which equals roughly half of my pay. Should I be getting paid for lost mileage (which is essentially my pay)? Also, I am currently working in the office which is a higher paying position but I am still being paid my... Read More >>
Can my employer request my medical records? I am a Registered Nurse who has 3 permanent back injuries. I found a job where I felt I could meet the requirements of the job description. Recently I was involved in an incident with a patient who was falling and my condition was exacerbated from me assisting her to keep her safe. I have... Read More >>