Imagine that you have finally reached the point where you can return to your job after a work injury. It seems like good news, but what if there is no job for you when you return? The unfortunate reality is that you can’t turn around and go back to getting workers’ compensation benefits instead. Once you have been released by your doctor to return to work, you no longer qualify for temporary total disability payments.
After an injury, doctors often put restrictions on what the employee can do physically. Maybe they can’t lift anything over 10 pounds, for example. If your employer can’t give you work that allows for your restrictions, then you are entitled to temporary total disability payments. TTD payments are 2/3 of your average weekly wage. In other words, if you can’t perform your required job duties, then you are off work and your employer, or their insurer, gives you 2/3 of your pay while you’re out.
In most cases, the injured worker’s doctor is eventually able to lift their restrictions because they have healed, or healed enough to go back to work. A recent situation involved a home health aide who was injured on the job. She was unable to work while recovering, due to the restrictions from her doctor. However, when her restrictions were lifted and she was able to return to her job, there simply weren’t any clients available for her to work with. She essentially had no job to return to, and no paycheck either.
Honestly, there’s not much she can do. The employer didn’t appear to do anything unethical or against the law. Although an employer can’t fire an employee because they are injured or because they file a claim for compensation, they don’t have to guarantee that your job will be there for you when you return. This rule often is misunderstood to mean that you can’t be fired while out on workers’ compensation, and that’s not true. The law is there to protect workers from being fired in retaliation for asserting their rights after an injury.
The silver lining is that we have found that your job is actually there more often after a work injury than it would be if you took a leave for a non-work injury. That’s because the case can have more value if there is no job to return to so often the insurance company will encourage your employer to take you back.
Our promise is to tell it like it is, even if it’s not what you want to hear. And that’s the reality for the injured home health aide. Her only option may be to look for a new job. The law puts this unfortunate timing issue on the employee. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s how it works.