You hurt yourself and began receiving compensation. You saw your employer’s doctor, and then soon after that, you received a letter to go back to work to a modified job within your restrictions. You don’t think you can do it, and your doctor agrees with you, and gives you a note to stay out of work. What should you do?
This scenario plays out in court throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania all the time. No one should go through this without a workers’ compensation lawyer. The consequences of the choices you make can be so dramatic in this instance, you need as much information as you can get. There’s no way you should make the decision without knowing your legal rights.
Here’s what I’ve seen dozens of times over my career: the scenario that plays out in court is like a competition or a game. The factor that determines who wins is: the party who acted in “good faith” throughout the process, and acted more reasonable in the eyes of the judge.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the employer and ask, “what do we as a society expect from an employer in this situation?” We want an employer to offer a job within an injured worker’s medical restrictions so he or she can again earn a living. We don’t want the employer to act in bad faith just to “set the claimant up” to fail.
Now let’s look at this from the perspective of the injured worker. What do we want injured workers to do while on disability? We want the injured worker to make every effort to return to work and again become a productive member of society. An injured person acting in bad faith just wants to receive compensation and makes no effort to return to work even within his/her restrictions.
Back to the original scenario: the conflict is that the injured worker is referred a job that it doesn’t think he/she can do, but the employer has a doctor who cleared the claimant to return to the position. The treating doctor plays it safe, supports the injured worker, and restricts him/her from returning.
In workers compensation court, the judge decides whose doctor is more credible. If the judge believes the employer’s doctor, then the worker’s benefits are reduced or suspended. If the judge believes the worker’s treating doctor, the everything stays the same and the benefits continue. The injured worker is in a vulnerable, scary position during litigation. Giving up control by allowing the judge to decide the winner should be avoided at all costs.
The injured workers who had the best success were the ones who made every effort to return even to positions that were beyond the restrictions of their own treating doctor. It’s completely counter- intuitive and sometimes takes a herculean effort, but it has almost always worked out for workers who make the effort to return.
One or two things can happen when the Claimant pushed itself beyond his own doctor’s medical restrictions: a) the employer accommodates the injured worker and he/she is able to function in the job long enough to continue to earn a paycheck until a favorable settlement is reached; or b) the worker isn’t able to do the job, has to leave due to increased symptoms. After a legitimate, good faith effort to complete the work, the worker gives detailed testimony describing the effort to do the job and most frequently, the judge appreciates the attempt and gives the worker the benefit of the doubt for trying. The result is much better for the Claimant.
To conclude, my experience has shown that it is a much safer choice and much wiser financial decision for an injured worker to make a good faith attempt to return to work even when exceeding its own doctor’s restrictions. If you can’t continue because the job is too hard, be sure to discuss your ability to work with your doctor. Don’t do anything without keeping your lawyer in the loop, and following legal advice.
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