A common worry among many of the disabled people we represent is that they will be forced to go back to work before they are ready. For some, it’s a legitimate fear.
Workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania provides payment for medical care to treat your work-related injury, at least until you’ve reached the peak improvement possible. Likewise, if you are unable to work for a week or longer, the program provides a replacement income—about two-thirds of your usual base pay—until you return to your job.
The trouble comes when you and your employer disagree about whether you’re “unable to work.”
A Story of Conflicting Agendas
The issue for your employer is fairly simple: it’s all about money. Paying you for not working—even when this payment is indirectly made through your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier—may be required by law, but it’s a dead loss for the company you work for. The company gets nothing in return.
Often, therefore, the company will try to speed your way back to the workplace. “After all,” your boss will reason, “we’re stuck paying most of his wages while he’s on workers’ comp. We might as well bring him back into work and get some value from the exchange.”
If it’s clear you’re not going to be able to carry out your old job, at least for a while, then your employer may offer an easier job that fits within your limitations. Some employers will even create an alternative job just for you. If the new job pays less than your old one, typically workers’ compensation will pick up two-thirds of the difference in wage rates.
The only basis on which you may challenge being assigned a new job is that the work is not within your capabilities (given the physical and mental limits you face after your workplace injury) or your skills (based on your previous work history). Proving that a proffered job is too taxing for your partially disabled condition can be an enormous task for the typical Pennsylvania’s workers’ comp recipient. You will have to be prepared to submit extensive medical documentation and expert testimony to prove that the new job is not within your capabilities.
In most cases, your best approach is to accept the offer of a new job, at least on a trial basis. If you find you are not able to carry out your job duties, let your employer know specifically what part of the work exceeds your limitations. Ask to be assigned a modified job that’s within your abilities. Do your best to maintain a cooperative attitude, but hold firm to the understanding that it’s your employer’s duty to find work to fit you, rather than your responsibility to endure work that will stall your medical progress or injure you further.
Making the Transition Back to Employment
You should be able to return to work on your own timeline—when you’re well enough, and not before. You do not have to meekly accept it when an employer tries to force you back to work too soon.
Here at the Harrisburg office of Schmidt Kramer, our Harrisburg personal injury lawyers help our neighbors in central Pennsylvania secure their workers’ comp benefits despite push-back from grouchy employers. Our employment attorneys know what it takes to persuade an administrative law judge that a client is being forced back into an inappropriate work environment far too soon. If you want help fighting against an early return to work—or if you just need some questions answered—call us today at (717) 888-8888 toll-free. We offer free initial case reviews to all new clients.