I hear this question on a regular basis from my workers’ compensation clients. In my experience, the answer is almost always “no.” But if you do find alternate or part-time employment during your workers’ compensation case, you need to keep track of and disclose your earnings.
Why working when you are injured can help your case:
Working helps your credibility with doctors and judges:
Doctors and judges are the two most important people in your case, because the doctors drive the medical evidence and the judge weighs that evidence. Ultimately, those decisions come down to a doctor or judge’s determination of your character. A judge is going to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is trying to help themselves. That’s also why complying with doctor’s orders and rehabilitation programs helps your credibility in court.
Just because you’re working doesn’t mean that you are not significantly or even totally disabled:
Maybe your company is bending over backward to keep you. Maybe a sibling or a parent has you working at their business. In situations like that, a court is going to understand you are earning wages beyond your real potential to earn wages. You may also be enduring tremendous amounts of pain to maintain employment. In cases like that, especially if you had a good employment record and complied with your doctor’s orders, the fact that you are working through pain could very well help your credibility.
How to hurt your case when you work:
Not disclosing your wages and employment:
This is especially true if you are working while receiving temporary disability benefits or unemployment benefits. This makes you look dishonest, and you might be committing fraud in many states. Additionally, once you are in the legal process, you normally have a duty to disclose that information to your employer/insurer anyway. Even if a judge believes that you inadvertently forgot to turn over this wage information, you are still making it more difficult for your attorney to win you benefits.
Clearly working beyond your medical restrictions:
Let’s say a doctor takes you off work as a nurse because you can’t lift more than 25 pounds and bend and twist on a regular basis, but you keep working as a CrossFit instructor, where you regularly do heavy lifting that involves bending and twisting. If you are that person, don’t call our law firm. Though employee fraud is a very small percentage of overall fraud, conduct like that would likely be workers’ compensation fraud. Again, working can help with your credibility in a workers’ compensation case, but being dishonest about that work can hurt your case.
It’s not uncommon in the workers’ compensation arena that we hear allegations of malingering or workers being hurt on purpose to reap the monetary rewards of a work injury. Some employers refuse to settle a case as long as the worker is still employed by the company, fearing a large monetary settlement will encourage other workers to get injured. The limited benefits of a workers’ compensation claim make these assertions ridiculous. Specifically, no benefits are paid for the pain and suffering. Additionally, the reality is that many states compensate a permanent injury for only a matter of weeks or years. The worker and his or her family are left to deal with the ongoing effects of these injuries for the balance of their lifetime.
The Insurance Journal listed the top 10 leading causes “of serious, nonfatal workplace injuries” from “2012 claims data for injuries lasting six or more days and ranked the injuries by total workers’ compensation costs,” according to a recent article.
Not surprisingly, horseplay or purposefully getting injured was not among them. In fact, the leading cause of workplace injuries is ironically enough – overexertion! Overexertion and other exertion-related injuries made up almost a third of all workplace injuries. So much for the theory of money-hungry workers playing around or purposefully getting injured. Falls comprise two of the top 10 leading causes of workplace injuries, making up a total of just over 24 percent of all injuries. Being struck by or striking objects combined for around 15 percent. Motor vehicle accidents (5.3 percent) and repetitive movements (3.1 percent) round out the top 10 list. The full list is detailed below. In total, the 10 most common work injuries accounted for almost 84 percent of all injuries.
Overexertion 25.3 percent
Falls on same level 15.4 percent
Struck by object or equipment 8.9 percent
Falls to lower level 8.6 percent
Other exertions or bodily reactions 7.2 percent
Roadway incidents 5.3 percent
Slip or trip without fall 3.6 percent
Caught in or by equipment or objects 3.5 percent
Repetitive motions 3.1 percent
Struck against object or equipment 2.9 percent
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace deaths have decreased from 38 per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012, according to the article. Additionally, OSHA reports occupational injury and illness rates have declined 67 percent since 1970, all while employment has almost doubled.
Despite these accomplishments, insurance companies and large employers continue to lobby state legislatures about the injustice and cost of workers’ compensation benefits. In reality, workers and their families continue to bear the real burdens of workplace injuries.