When Should You Return to Work After a Workers Comp Claim?

By Adriel Smith
TEMPLE UNIVERSITY BEASLEY SCHOOL OF LAW

Injured workers may want to return to work as quickly as possible after they get better. While worker’s compensation is an important safety net and cushions the financial blow that comes with being out of work, it’s often not equivalent to a person’s normal wages.

If you’ve been injured at work and have been on the road to recovery, you might be wondering if you’re ready to rejoin the workforce. Your employer may influence you to return sooner or the financial situation at home may be calling you to get back to work. 

Whichever scenario it is, if you’re thinking about going to work after an injury claim, there are a few things to think about. 

How Do You Feel?

Do you feel physically recovered? Have your injuries healed? When you think about work, does it fill you with dread or hope? 

The way you really feel about returning to work will tell you the truth about you being ready or not. If your workplace has been a constant source of worry, returning to work before you have fully healed may not be a great idea. 

Plus, this sense of healing might be coming from the actual recovery process that you’re going through. If that process hasn’t taken its due course, and you return sooner than necessary, you may jeopardize the whole process. 

That’s why it’s important to think things through before you return.

Figure out if taking it easy at home is giving you an inflated sense of being physically fit. With your doctor’s permission, start exercising and being more physically active to determine where you are in the healing process. This quick litmus test will help you determine feasible timelines for your return to work.  

What Does Your Doctor Say?

Your doctor is the best person to consult about when you should go back to work. To prevent any complications related to a work injury, your doctor might have given you a plan for a full recovery. If your speedy return to work does not align with that plan, your doctor may advise you against the idea. 

Your employer has to comply with your doctor’s medical advice. If returning to work can complicate your injury or if the work environment is still hazardous to your employee wellbeing, your doctor may not sign off on you going back to work so soon. 

To keep your health a priority and to ensure that you won’t sustain more injuries at work, go back to work only when you are 100% healthy and a doctor has signed off on your return.

Are There Any Changes In Your Job?

A work-related injury often follows some operational or functional change at work. Employers often try to improve workplace safety by rewriting the job roles or making significant operational changes that ensure employees are always safe when performing their duties. 

Talk to your worker’s compensation lawyer and determine if your workplace has made any such changes. If there’s any chance you may sustain a similar injury again when you go back to work, it’s important to be sure your concerns are addressed first. 

Communicate through your lawyer to your company that you expect a safer working environment when you rejoin the ranks.

Before you set foot in the building, ensure all the necessary changes have been made to make you and others feel safe working there. 

Keep the Communication Lines Open with Your Employer

If you plan to return to work, staying in touch with your employer is a good idea. 

You don’t have to update them every time you visit your doctor, but telling them how your recovery is progressing, what the doctor says and when you’ll be able to come back to work will help everyone stay on the same page. 

Staying in touch will also enable your employer to chart your return to work in a way that aligns well with your recovery. This will make for a smooth transition and ensure that your new work environment has everything you need as you settle back into the job. For example, if you want to work part-time for the first couple of weeks or have medical restrictions that require some changes to your job description, open communications with your employer will ensure your return to work is as smooth and functional as possible. 

Don’t Feel Threatened or Pressured

Some employers may take your desire for open communication to mean you are ready to come back to the office. If that happens, don’t feel the need to succumb to the pressure. Let your professionalism guide you as you share updates with your employer on your recovery. Feel empowered to say that you’re not yet ready to come back to work and share any doctor-approved guidelines if needed. 

Talk to your worker’s comp lawyer and figure out a strategy in case your employer starts putting pressure on you. The law is on your side. Legally, your employer cannot force you to come back to work. However, your worker’s comp doctor may release you to go back to work. If that happens, and you still feel you’re not ready to go back, your lawyer will help you file the relevant dispute. 

In Colorado, you can challenge the doctor’s order and go to your own doctor or an independent source to review your injury.

While it’s natural to feel worried about the job, think of your health first. An experienced workers comp lawyer will help you file the lawsuit that forbids your employer to force you to return sooner than you’re ready.  

Prioritize Your Recovery

Feeling ready to go back to work and figuring out the logistics of doing so are two entirely different matters. If you get the latter wrong, you’re at risk of worsening your current injury or recurring a new one at work. It’s important to only rejoin your office when you are completely recovered from your workplace injury. 

If at any point during your recovery, you feel that your employer or insurer is pressurizing you to return to work before you feel fully ready, an experienced workers comp lawyer can help you thwart such attempts. So, keep your lawyer in the loop when you start communicating with your employer about going back to work. It’ll help you stay focused on your recovery and ensure that you are not going back to work sooner than is healthy for you.  

– Adriel Smith is a law student at Temple University Beasley School of Law. She hopes to practice in public interest and social justice upon her graduation and bar passage in 2023.

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