What Can I Do if I Am Unable to Return to the Job or Work I Did Before I Was Injured?
Getting injured and being unable to work is a precarious situation to be in. In at-will states like Florida, an employer holds almost all of the power when it comes to letting injured workers go, reducing their hours, or reducing their pay. This dynamic can make filing a workers’ compensation claim or informing your employer that you’re unable to work really scary. However, the truth remains that employees are in a worse position if they forego the workers’ compensation benefits they are legally entitled to, especially if they aren’t able to afford the medical treatments needed to be healthy enough to work again.
The rules about workers’ compensation benefits, return to work orders, disability, impairments, and the rights of the employer and employee when dealing with a work-related injury are incredibly complicated and can be nearly impossible for someone dealing with a serious injury to understand in a short time frame. Getting help from a local Tampa workers’ compensation attorney is a good way to fight for the maximum benefits you’re eligible for and get you the best chances of recovering in the long term.
When thinking about an injury that affects your ability to work, the two main categories would be injuries sustained while off-work and injuries received while engaging in the normal functions of your role. Where and how you were injured can have a large effect on how your case can go.
The Injury was Not Work-Related
If the injury was not work-related like if you slipped on ice on the way to your car or you broke your ankle while jogging, you are protected from workplace repercussions for up to 12 weeks. This time is guaranteed by the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows for employees of certain businesses or organizations to take unpaid time off for any “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”
The requirements for family and medical leave protected under the federal government follow:
- The company must have at least 50 employees
- You have worked there as an employee (not an independent contractor) for at least a year
- Worked at least 25 hours a week or 1250 hours in the past 12 months
- At least 50 employees work in your work location within a 75-mile radius
Once you’re able to return to work, your employer is required to offer you your previous position or an equivalent one. Unfortunately, protections for non-work-related injuries end here, and if you find you’re unable to resume the work you did before your injury, your chances at proving a discriminatory termination are often quite low. Your employer can legally let you go, in most instances, if your injury prevents you from fulfilling the duties of your role. You can still explore your options for a discrimination suit by speaking with an attorney, especially if you have a disability that may qualify you for protected status.
The Injury was Work-Related
If your injuries were related to the normal functions of your job, you have a few more options at your disposal. On top of the federal protections described above, you also have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim to recover any medical costs and lost wages from missed work.
Throughout the time you are receiving worker’s compensation benefits, you should be speaking regularly with your doctor about the outlook of your injury and your ability to work. Only the physician you use for your work-related injuries can change your work eligibility status.
What If I Disagree With the Doctor?
If your doctor takes you off of no-work status and you disagree with their decision, you can seek a second opinion at any time. If your doctor refuses or disagrees with a second opinion, you can also use a one-time change of doctor that all workers’ compensation recipients in Florida are eligible for. Keep in mind that you can’t choose your second doctor if you decide to change it, and you can only make this request once.
You’ll also need to make a good faith effort to return to work unless you can get your physician to immediately reverse a return to work order. This is the case while waiting for a second opinion, a change of doctor request, or any other formal process while you are technically eligible to work. If you don’t try to work during this time, you may lose certain benefits and protections.
Lighter Duty Work
If the doctor tells you you can return to work in a limited capacity, you will need to work with your employer and doctor to figure out reasonable accommodations for you to keep working. You may qualify for extended benefits compensating you for the difference in pay compared to your old duties, in some cases. If you feel your injuries worsen during this time, immediately tell your doctor, but don’t refrain from working, as it can cause an end to your benefits.
Maximum Medical Improvement
If an injury leaves you with long-term problems that permanently keep you from working at your previous level of ability, your doctor will evaluate your condition and rate your impairments based on a set of medical standards. If you’re able to do the same work as before or any other work that earns you at least as much as you made previously, the amount you are able to receive for impairment benefits will be cut.
If you’re never going to be able to do even sedentary, administrative work again, you can be granted permanent total disability benefits, which will provide you with funds at the same rate as your temporary benefits up until the age you’re able to receive social security benefits. You may also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provided you have a qualifying disability, as determined by the Social Security Administration.
Get Help With Your Workers Compensation Benefits When You Can’t Return to Work
When you’re injured and can’t return to work, you should seek out the local legal representation that can help you fight for the maximum benefits you deserve. Whether you’re having difficulties getting a fair diagnosis for your injuries or pain, are dealing with a hostile work environment while trying to return to work, or are dealing with a permanent disability, getting a lawyer that will fight tirelessly for you is a good first step to a preferable outcome.
Call Darrigo & Diaz at 813-774-3341 today or contact us online to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss the details of your case.