In virtually all workers’ compensation cases an injured worker has to return to work in some capacity. Often these are very stressful situations and it is not uncommon for issues to arrise including conflict with an employer over what a safe return to work actually is. Your goal should be to continue to earn a paycheck while at the same time not risking further injury. Many times this is easier said than done.
Whether it’s a supervisor who ignores your restrictions or a human resources department that actively skirts them, issues frequently come up. We see employers do everything from requiring an injured worker to lift or stand more than they should, to pressuring an employee to return to work the day after a surgical procedure.
You can expect that a nurse case manager or HR specialist from your employer is communicating with your doctor’s office about your return to work. Sometimes they may misrepresent the work that they expect you to do upon your return. It is your job to fill in the gaps.
The most important thing an injured worker can do is communicate with his or her treating physician.
- Educate your doctor about the job you were doing when you were initially hurt.
- When you are assigned to work, educate your doctor about the light duty job you are doing.
- If you are assigned to a job that is difficult for you to perform due to your injury, talk to your doctor about what aspects of that job are difficult. The doctor will likely be willing to restrict you from doing that specific activity.
- If your employer is blatantly disregarding restrictions, your doctor has the power to simply take you off of work completely until you heal from your injury.
When returning to work, an injured worker should always keep a copy of their current work restrictions on them. Communicating with your employer may involve keeping in touch with everyone from the HR department, to a company nurse or medical professional, to your direct supervisor. It’s important that everyone has the same information.
A union steward can offer you valuable assistance should issues come up concerning a return to work. This is because they often have more information about the physical requirements of specific jobs and can work with you. If necessary, they can fight for you if there is a difference of opinion about what a reasonable accommodation is. Job descriptions are used by parties to help resolve this kind of conflict and if one is available you should also provide a copy to your doctor so that you can discuss it with him or her.
Doctors and stewards can be valuable helpers in ensuring your return to work is a safe one, but it is your job to give them the information they need to do this.