Over the last few weeks I’ve had some injured Illinois workers ask similar questions about being released back to work. “How do I tell my doctor I’m not ready to go back to work?” asked one of them. “Can my doctor make me return to work if I don’t feel ready?” asked another.
First off, nobody can make you work. The bigger issue is that if you are released to work and don’t do it, you won’t get TTD benefits and could get fired.
Ultimately it’s up to a doctor to offer their opinion. That said, you have to be an advocate for yourself. That means a bunch of things:
1. Make sure they are aware of your symptoms. Don’t be a tough guy.
2. Don’t exaggerate your symptoms. Many doctors will rightfully perform tests to see if you are telling the truth without you even knowing it.
3. Make clear what your job entails. If you have a back injury and know that when you return to work you’ll be forced to lift hundreds of pounds, your doctor needs to know that you likely have a great chance of re-injury. If they do, they might release you with restrictions that will protect your health and safety.
4. Discuss with them what you should do if you have the same pain when working.
5. Let them know the pain you have when doing similar activities away from work. If you have carpal tunnel and your job involves typing all day, if you tried to work on your home computer and it was too much, the doctor needs to know.
6. Make clear your concerns. If your boss doesn’t follow restrictions, let the doctor know. If you have to do more work than normal because of COVID-19 cut backs, let your doctor know. Communication is key.
7. If you’ve been off work for a while, ask the doctor to order a work hardening or work conditioning program. This is a medical benefit that allows you to simulate what your work day will be like and gradually build the strength necessary to perform your normal job.
What you can’t do is make a medical decision for yourself and expect to get TTD benefits. In some cases you have to try and return to work even if you risk getting hurt again. This may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth and that is how we operate. We are always straight with our clients.
The other thing I’d suggest is communicate with your employer if you are at a good place to work. Let them know you want to physically ease in to things and/or ask if they have less demanding work. Some companies will be jerks about, but some will be great and know that your health is in their best interests in the long run.