Returning to Work After Injury: Understanding Work Restrictions
Going back to work after an injury can be a stressful experience. You need to reintegrate into the workplace after a period of illness, and you may experience life disruption caused by the injury itself or by personal and financial strain. In addition, you may not understand your rights if suddenly hit with a mountain of paperwork and long discussions with your employer, doctor and claims administrator. When you start the process of returning to work, you will want to know the standards put in place for your protection.
Returning to your role at work may be different from what you remember. For example, your doctor may have put conditions on your return that prevent any delays in recovery. In California, these conditions are called work restrictions. They place limits on the type of tasks you can complete, and they also put an obligation on the employer to make your work environment safe, given the stage of your recovery.
Who Decides on Work Restrictions?
Your doctor will set out limits on what you can do when you return to work. After your injury, your employer, doctor, attorney and claims administrator are expected to be in communication about your case. Your doctor will first decide whether you are healthy enough to be back on the job; if you are, your doctor will determine how your work must be modified to keep you safe.
Workers' Compensation in California advises employees to describe their work in detail to their physician and claims administrator. Since there are many types of jobs in the state, your doctor may not truly understand your daily tasks and the risks they pose. Sometimes, your attorney is the best person to communicate these details to others involved in your case.
What Are Examples of Work Restrictions?
Work restrictions must be clear and specific. For example, you may be barred from lifting items weighing more than 50 pounds. You may be prevented from sitting for more than two hours at a time. Your doctor will come up with these restrictions based on a full understanding of your job and treatment plan for your injury.
What Is My Employer's Responsibility?
If you have work restrictions, your employer must take steps to change your work environment to meet those restrictions. If you cannot lift your arms, for example, and must spend many hours on the phone, you may be equipped with a headset. If your employer is not able to make necessary accommodations, you do not have to work.
Your employer may also offer you modified work or alternative work. Modified work is your old job with changes to the tasks and duties that comply with your work restrictions. Alternative work is a new job within the same company, which you can perform while you are under work conditions.
You may have the option to accept or refuse an offer of modified work or alternative work from your employer. However, your refusal to return to work may affect eligibility for government benefits. An attorney can work with you to find a solution that supports your health and well-being.
Should I Get Legal Help?
When you are injured on the job, remember that clear communication is important. An attorney can help all parties understand the physical and mental demands of your job and how going back to work without restrictions can adversely affect your recovery.
Especially when you are vulnerable because of a medical condition, dealing with a bureaucracy can add the type of stress that makes recovery even more challenging. Speak to a lawyer about your rights, responsibilities and options when getting back on the job after injury.