What Georgia law says about your rights and responsibilities regarding returning to work after an injury
A question we’re often asked during a workers’ compensation claim is: “What are my duties with regards to returning to work once I have been injured?”
There are three different opportunities where an injured worker could be returned to work, and therefore three different answers. The times an injured worker could be return to work are:
- Immediately following the injury
- After they have been placed on light duty restrictions but have received indemnity, temporary total disability benefits
- After they have been returned to normal duty work following either being on total work restrictions or on light duty work restrictions.
The authorized treating physician in a workers’ compensation case determines what restrictions will be placed on the injured worker. The main designations are return to normal duty work, return to work with restrictions, and no work.
Returning the injured worker to normal duty work means that the injury should not inhibit them from working in any way. This is NOT to say that they can do the same job which they were injured while performing. It actually has the legal effect of saying that an injured worker can return to perform physical activities in line with what they were able to do before the injury.
Returning to work with restrictions
There are many variables to being able to return to work with restrictions. For example, the authorized treating physician can place weight lifting restrictions on the injured worker. Or the authorized treating physician can say that the injured worker is only able to do work with one hand or arm. In fact, the authorized treating physician can state that the injured worker’s injury is so severe, that they are only allowed to do sedentary work.
Furthermore, the authorized treating physician can limit the amount of time the injured worker is allowed to work, stand, and perform other tasks during the day. All of the restrictions placed on the injured worker by the authorized treating physician must be the result of their on the job injury for it to pertain to the workers’ compensation claim.
Refusing to return to work can impact your workers’ compensation benefits
If an injured worker is released to perform normal duty work by an authorized treating physician immediately following their injury, they are not entitled to indemnity benefits. Even if they are in pain, they have to go back and attempt the work from a workers’ compensation perspective.
An injured worker is entitled to a second opinion. But in the meantime, they are not eligible to receive indemnity benefits, even if they don’t believe they are able to work. This is why it’s important to choose a doctor from the panel of physicians who will listen to you, and not just go to whomever the employer recommends.
You must notify your employer about work restrictions
The authorized treating physician may place work restrictions on the injured worker immediately following their injury. It is very important to present these work restrictions to the employer the first time the injured worker receive them. It then becomes the responsibility of the employer to offer the injured worker a job within those restrictions.
Do not assume that the employer doesn’t have work within those restrictions.
We have many clients who contact us and say that they know, for a fact, that their employer doesn’t have any work within the restrictions that the authorized treating physician presented them with subsequent to their on the job injury.
Don’t assume anything. Just because you think your employer doesn’t have work for you, doesn’t mean that they can’t find light duty work to assign you. It may be in another department, or they may create a job for you, but it might exist.
If they offer a light duty job, you must try it. Failure to try could make it more difficult to obtain your benefits at a later date.
Even part-time work must be attempted
Your employer may not have full-time work within your light duty restrictions. But if they offer part-time work, you must attempt to perform the light duty work. The employer has two choices at this point: they can either pay the injured worker the same amount as they were making at the time of the injury (even if the hours are different), or they can pay the injured worker less.
If the injured worker is earning less than they were before their injury in the new light duty job, they are entitled to temporary partial disability benefits. This is paid on a weekly basis and is two-thirds (⅔) of the difference between their pre-injury average weekly wage and the wages they earned that week while on light duty restrictions.
What if your employer cannot meet restrictions?
Another scenario is when an injured worker is placed on restrictions by the authorized treating physician and the employer cannot meet those restrictions. At this point, indemnity benefits have to be commenced if this lasts for more than 7 days.
Once indemnity benefits have been started, everything changes. This also applies when the authorized treating physician changes work restrictions from no work at all to light duty work.
At this point, the employee isn’t required to immediately return to work. If the employer contacts the employee and says that they have a light duty job, they still don’t have to return to work right away if indemnity benefits are currently being paid. This applies even if they are told that they will lose their job if they don’t appear at work the next day.
Georgia workers’ compensation law regarding returning to work
Under Georgia law, what is required is set forth in O.C.G.A. 34-9-240 and State Board of Workers’ Compensation Rule 240.
First, a WC-240A has to be presented to the authorized treating physician. This is a form in which the specific job being offered the injured worker is defined. All physical requirements of the job must be identified and meticulously spelled out so the authorized treating physician can determine if the injured individual can perform that job. Besides job duties, the WC-240 must also include the rate of pay and the hours per day the job requires.
Once the authorized treating physician signs off on the WC-240A, a WC-240 must be sent to the injured worker (and their attorney) notifying them about where and when to report. At least 10 days notice must be given to the injured worker. If the injured worker returns on the day identified by the WC-240 and no work is available to them, then benefits must be immediately recommenced.
If the injured worker returns to work and the predetermined job is available, they must perform that job for at least 8 working hours or 1 full working day. If they are unable to continue working in that position because of their injury, then benefits must be immediately recommenced.
Furthermore, if the injured worker performs that job for more than 1 but less than 15 days, benefits have to be recommenced. If the injured worker works for more than 15 days, then benefits don’t have to be restarted immediately.
As you can see, there are a lot of nuances with regards to returning to work in a workers’ compensation claim. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the attorneys at Gerber & Holder.