Work restrictions, whether temporary or permanent, may have an impact on the injured worker’s return to work after suffering a work-related injury

work restrictions and workers compensationTreating physicians often impose work restrictions or limitations on injured workers. Temporary work restrictions may be imposed to allow the injury to continue healing while allowing the injured worker to return to work. Permanent work restrictions may affect the injured worker’s ability to return to work at the same job. A Santa Rosa workers compensation lawyer can help injured workers understand how work restrictions might affect their continued employment.

Temporary Work Restrictions

Most injured workers are able to return to work after a work-related injury. Injured workers always want to return to work as soon as they can. In many cases, returning to work can help to improve injuries while also helping injured workers avoid depression which often plagues injured workers who suffer from chronic pain.

California’s workers compensation system encourages employers to return injured workers to their former jobs whenever they can. The law prohibits an employer from terminating an injured worker’s employment simply because he was injured or filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Likewise, an employer cannot force an injured worker to return to work if the treating physician has determined that the injured worker should perform no work at all due to the injury.

Whether or not an injured worker is able to return to work in some capacity is generally determined by the treating physician. The treating physician may authorize a return to regular work or a return to work which is subject to certain work restrictions or limitations. A treating physician cannot make that decision without first understanding the job duties that the injured worker performed at the time of the injury. Therefore, it is important that the injured worker accurately communicate his job duties to his treating physician.

It is the obligation of the employer to determine whether or not it can accommodate any work restrictions or limitations imposed by a treating physician. However, the employer is not legally obligated to offer work which is consistent with the treating physician’s work restrictions. In the event the employer elects to deny the injured worker modified work, the workers’ compensation insurance company will generally be obligated to continue paying disability benefits.

Returning to Work with Temporary Restrictions

In many cases, an injured employee will be returned to work subject to certain work restrictions or limitations. Examples of work restrictions include:

  • No lifting more than 30 pounds.
  • No lifting more than 20 pounds more than 5 times in one hour.
  • No standing for longer than 2 hours.
  • No climbing, squatting, or kneeling.
  • No reaching above shoulder level.

A treating physician must communicate any work restrictions to the claims administrator promptly. Likewise, an injured worker should present his work restrictions to his employer as soon as possible. Changes in work restrictions after each reevaluation of the injured worker’s condition should also be made known to the claims administrator and employer.

If the injured worker returns to work with restrictions, the employer must comply with the restrictions imposed by the treating physician. An employer may decide that no work is available which is consistent with those restrictions. When that happens, the injured worker generally continues to receive temporary disability benefits.

Violations of Work Restrictions

Sometimes an employer will try to avoid paying temporary disability benefits by insisting that an injured worker return to work performing tasks that would violate the recommended work restrictions. Injured workers have a right to refuse work that violates work restrictions imposed by treating physicians.

It is wise to explain in writing why the work is being refused, attaching a copy of the work restrictions. Injured workers can have their Santa Rosa workers’ compensation lawyer write a letter to the employer and/or the claims administrator explaining why the injured worker cannot perform the job assignment without violating the work restrictions.

An employer cannot legally fire an injured worker who insists on complying with recommended work restrictions. Firing an injured worker in order to avoid paying temporary disability benefits is unlawful in California. A Santa Rosa workers’ compensation attorney can help injured workers understand their rights when they are terminated due to a work injury.

Permanent Disability

Whether an injured worker with a permanent disability may be able to return to her regular work depends on whether or not she is capable of performing the necessary job duties and whether the employer has work to offer. As a general rule, if work restrictions do not prevent the injured worker from performing the essential duties of her job, the employer will likely allow her to return to work. An exception to that rule might exist for instance, if circumstances changed during the injured worker’s absence. Employers may not eliminate a job as a pretext for discriminating against a disabled employee.

When work restrictions prevent an injured worker from performing his or her regular job duties, the question is whether the job can be permanently modified for the injured worker. In some cases if the injured worker can still perform the essential functions of the job, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might require the employer to modify the job to accommodate those restrictions.

When permanent work restrictions prevent the injured worker from performing the essential functions of the job, the employer has a choice. The employer can offer the injured worker a modified or alternative job that pays at least 85% of the former wages. If the employer does not make that offer, the employer must provide a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher in addition to any permanent disability benefits the injured worker is entitled to.

Injured workers can use that voucher to pay for job retraining and the related expenses of finding a new job. For injuries that occur after 01/01/13, the voucher has a maximum value of $6,000 and imposes certain limitations on how that money can be used. Injured workers who are uncertain whether they qualify for the voucher should ask their Santa Rosa workers’ compensation lawyer for advice.

Getting Help with Workers Compensation

Work restrictions can raise vexing issues for injured workers. To obtain the advice of a Santa Rosa workers’ compensation attorney about how work restrictions affect your rights under California’s workers’ compensation system, call Kneisler & Schondel at (707) 542-5132. You can also ask us a question by submitting our online contact form.