Can I refuse to go back to work? Understand your right to refuse work after a job-related injury or illness in Georgia
When someone is injured on the job, they often feel they are forced back to work by their employer and/or the authorized treating physician. As a result, a question that we get often asked is: Do I have to go back to work, and what are my rights in refusing to go back to work?
In this article, we will address both of these questions and provide answers for multiple situations.
Overview of a work status report and limited duty restrictions
When an individual is hurt on the job, they are entitled to medical treatment with an authorized treating physician. If an employer complies with State Board of Workers’ Compensation Board Rule 201, the employee has to choose from at least 6 doctors on the posted panel of physicians.
The physician chosen by the injured worker is then charged with providing a work status for the injured individual. If a panel doesn’t exist or isn’t in compliance with Board Rule 201, then the injured worker can select a doctor of their choosing who is also required to provide a work status report for the injured worker.
The work status report lists both the capabilities and restrictions, if any, that an injured worker has at that appointment. These restrictions may include limited lifting, standing, pushing, pulling, driving, walking, overhead work, no use of an extremity, and other limitations.
The restrictions may also indicate how long the injured worker can do certain activities, such as no standing more than 15 minutes at a time or no walking more than 3 hours a day. They may also include restrictions on how much a person can lift, both for their whole body or for a specific body part. Examples of this type of restriction are no lifting more than 25 pounds and no lifting more than 5 pounds with the right arm.
Notify your employer of work restrictions
Once an injured worker is placed on restrictions, they should present a copy of their doctor’s note to their employer. It’s very important to provide a copy and keep the original document for your records. It is also important to take notes regarding who was given the note, when, where and at what time. These details can be used as evidence in case the employer either claims to have never received the note or fails to comply with the work restrictions (which we will discuss below).
Don’t assume that your employer does not have a position available within the restrictions that the authorized treating physician has placed on you. It doesn’t matter if you have worked there for 20 years and have never seen any work available within the restrictions provided. You must present the work restrictions to your employer and keep a copy for yourself.
Many times, employers are required by their workers’ compensation insurance policy to provide light duty work to injured employees. They may create a job specifically for an injured worker, place them in another facility, or offer them a new administrative role.
How work restrictions are handled in Georgia workers’ comp cases
Once the information has been provided to the employer, the employer may offer the injured worker light duty work within those restrictions. One of four actions will then take place after these restrictions are provided to the employer:
- The employer doesn’t have work within those restrictions that they can offer the injured worker.
- The employer has work within those restrictions, and offers the injured worker the same pay and same hours as before the injury.
- The employer has work within those restrictions, but with less hours and/or less pay.
- The employer doesn’t have work within those restrictions, but attempts to force the employee to return to work regardless.
1. Employer doesn’t have work within restrictions
If the employer cannot accommodate the injured worker, then benefits must be commenced. Sometimes either the restrictions are so limiting, or the employer has no work available within the restrictions. In this scenario, the injured worker is owed indemnity benefits 21 days after they are out of work for 7 days.
2. Employer does have work within restrictions
If the employer can accommodate the restrictions, then the employee has to attempt to return to work. If they can perform the work and are receiving the same pay as they were before the accident, then they need to continue to report to the job. This doesn’t mean that medical care stops, or that the restrictions cannot change over time. It merely means that adequate work is being provided within the restrictions.
3. Employer has work within restrictions, but with less hours/pay
A common scenario is when the restrictions lead to fewer hours and less pay. Sometimes, the restrictions prevent the injured worker from working as many hours as they were before. If they are working less hours, then they are earning less money per week than they were before their injury. In these cases, they are now entitled to temporary partial disability benefits.
4. Employer doesn’t have work within restrictions, and forces the injured worker to return to normal job
A final scenario that is, unfortunately, all too common is when the employer tells the injured worker that they have light duty work available and subsequently asks them to return. However, either the work offered is not within the restrictions, or over time they ask the injured worker to perform tasks that are outside the injured workers’ restrictions. In these scenarios, many workers simply fail to return the next day or quit. DO NOT QUIT.
What to do if your employer tries to force you to return to work outside of medical restrictions
- First, inform your supervisor that the work is beyond the work restrictions that you were provided.
- Second, contact your doctor and set an appointment to discuss the job duties and how they are causing pain.
- Third, contact your attorney or consult with an attorney if you don’t have one already.
A workers’ compensation attorney will work with you in providing the information about the work conditions to the employer and the insurance carrier.
If your employer concedes that they don’t have work within the restrictions, then benefits should commence. If they refuse to admit their error, then your attorney can help provide you with relief via a court date, motion or some other remedy at their disposal.
Once the injured worker is receiving benefits, the insurance carrier has to comply with Georgia workers’ compensation law (O.C.G.A. 34-9-240) to bring the injured worker back to work.
It’s important to note that the injured worker does indeed have a responsibility to attempt the work for 1 full business day (or 8 hours) in order for benefits to be recommenced. Once the injured worker has met those prerequisites, they can refuse to work if they are in too much pain, and therefore will be eligible for indemnity benefits.
Before an injured worker refuses work, it’s best to contact an attorney. Your legal status changes when you cease to work. Contact the Athens work injury lawyers at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys today if you have questions about your workers’ compensation case and refusing to go to work.