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Can I Get a Settlement for Workers’ Comp if I Go Back to Work?

Can I Get a Settlement for Workers’ Comp if I Go Back to Work?

On-the-job injuries and work-related illnesses are an unfortunate reality for workers in nearly every industry. Getting injured at work or developing occupational disease is a potential threat to your financial well-being and your ability to provide for your family.

That is why questions like “Should I return to work?” or “Am I ready to go back to work?” will arise sooner rather than later. However, returning to work is a decision that you should never take lightly, especially when receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

Never hesitate to discuss the implications of returning to work with your workers’ compensation attorney. They can advise how working will affect your benefits, as sometimes, your benefits might be significantly reduced or discontinued when you begin working again. They can help ensure you do not prematurely return to work and give up your benefits.

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Things to Consider Before You Go Back to Work After a Work-Related Injury

Going Back to Work After a Work-Related InjuryThe decision to return to work is a tough one. Many things go into making that decision, including:

  • Have you fully recovered from the injury? Before considering returning to your job after a work-related injury, the most critical question to ask yourself is whether you have fully recovered. Returning to work without healing properly risks worsening your injury and prolonging your recovery. As any medical professional would tell you, recovering is not always just about the disappearance of pain. You need confirmation from your healthcare provider that you have healed sufficiently to resume your duties without risk.
  • Do you have any work restrictions? Often, medical professionals will allow a return to work with specific restrictions. Restrictions may range from the amount of weight you can safely lift to limits on the duration you can stand or sit. You need to clearly understand these guidelines and discuss with your employer if your current job can accommodate the necessary adjustments. Overstepping these boundaries jeopardizes your health and may affect your compensation benefits.
  • Has your medical condition changed? When considering going back to work, it is crucial to continuously assess your medical condition. Sometimes, work strain can unveil new issues or exacerbate the existing condition. Keep a close eye on how your body responds during your transition back to work. If you notice any changes in your medical condition, you should not hesitate to consult your healthcare provider.
  • Are there alternative work duties available? Depending on the extent of your injury and the permanent limitations it may cause (if any), you need to consider if the employer can offer alternative duties at work. Talk to your employer and explore other roles you can perform without straining your recovery. Companies often have policies to accommodate employees reasonably under such circumstances. It can be a great way to ease back into the work environment.
  • Have you discussed your situation with a workers’ comp attorney? Legal advice can make the difference between a smooth return to work and a complicated one when deciding whether or not to return. That is why it is prudent to discuss your situation with an attorney, especially regarding the potential impact of your return to work on your workers’ compensation benefits. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help ensure you do not waive any critical benefits as you transition back to the workplace.

You may be unable to answer these questions independently and want to hear someone else’s perspective. A consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney can help you make an informed decision so that your return to work does not jeopardize your workers’ compensation benefits.

How Do Workers’ Compensation Cases Settle?

Workers’ compensation settlements come in various forms. Each settlement type works within particular circumstances and can vary accordingly:

  • Lump sum settlement. This type of settlement provides a one-time payment for the injuries the workers’ compensation covers. A lump sum settlement is beneficial because it offers certainty and immediate financial relief. Employers often choose lump sum settlements to finalize the claim cost without the uncertainty of ongoing payments. However, once a lump sum is paid, you may be unable to seek further compensation for related expenses unless the settlement specifically states otherwise. Such expenses might include future medical treatment or retraining for a new job if your injury prevents you from returning to your old role.
  • Structured settlement. A structured settlement is when an injured worker negotiates to receive the compensation they are entitled to in a structured payout over time. It can be monthly (most common), yearly, or even every few years. Many workers prefer this settlement type because it allows them to stretch the payments over time to obtain coverage for future expenses.

The timing of the settlement, regardless of its type, in relation to maximum medical improvement (MMI) is a crucial factor in the negotiation process. MMI is when your condition has reached a point where further medical interventions will not substantially improve your health. Settling before MMI can be risky as you might underestimate the future costs of your condition. If you settle after MMI has been reached, you are more likely to receive a higher settlement amount because you will know the long-term impact of your injury.

What Do Workers’ Compensation Settlements Include?

Under California law, all employers with at least one employee must provide workers’ compensation to their employees. Then, when an employee suffers an injury on the job, they may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, even if they were at fault for the injury (with certain exceptions). In order for the injured employee to receive those benefits, they need to reach a settlement with the employer’s insurance provider. When a workers’ comp settlement is reached, it can include several types of benefits, including:

  • Medical benefits. A workers’ compensation settlement should cover all necessary medical treatments related to the work injury. It includes hospital stays, emergency care, doctor’s visits, medication, surgeries, medical equipment, and other expenses. California law provides that medical benefit coverage must address the expenses reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of the compensable injury.
  • Rehabilitation benefits. Some workers may need help coping with their impairments or learning new skills after an on-the-job injury. This is where rehabilitation benefits may be necessary to cover occupational therapy, physical therapy, and vocational rehabilitation to train for a different position. These services are supposed to aid your recovery and facilitate your return to work in some capacity.
  • Disability benefits. Disability benefits, also known as “lost income,” aim to compensate for your lost income if your injury results in any degree of disability. These benefits are categorized into (a) temporary disability benefits if you cannot work while recovering and (b) permanent disability benefits if you do not fully recover and have lasting limitations. The amount paid depends on the extent of your disabilities and how they affect your ability to earn an income.
  • Death benefits. In the unfortunate event of an employee’s fatality at work, workers’ compensation provides death benefits to the worker’s dependents. These benefits help cover funeral and burial expenses and financially support the worker’s dependents. The death benefit amount can vary based on the number of dependents and other factors.

You may need a workers’ comp lawyer’s assistance in determining which benefits should be included in your workers’ comp settlement.

How Long Do Workers’ Comp Cases Take to Settle?

The timeline of a workers’ compensation case varies from one individual to another. It depends on various factors, such as the severity of the injuries and the extent of the medical care provided. In many cases, the time it takes to settle a workers’ comp claim depends on how long it takes a worker to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). That said, the timeline can range anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months or, in rare cases, even years.

Can You Get a Workers’ Comp Settlement if You Return to Work?

Returning to work after an injury can be a positive step forward. However, it raises questions about your workers’ comp settlement eligibility. The first thing that should be evaluated is the basis for a settlement or, in other words, the degree of permanent impairment resulting from your injury. Even if you return to work, a medical evaluation may determine that you have experienced a certain level of impairment, which can entitle you to a settlement to compensate for this permanent loss.

The value of a workers’ comp settlement is determined on a case-by-case basis and is typically calculated after considering factors such as the type and severity of the injury, your employment status at the time of the settlement, and the impact on your ability to work, among others. If you are still determining whether or not to return to work, you should speak with a workers’ compensation attorney.

Are You Entitled to Workers’ Comp Benefits if You Were Re-Injured After Returning to Work?

Any subsequent injury after returning to work must be evaluated to determine whether it is a new, independent injury or a re-aggravation of the existing one. If it is a re-aggravation, it may still be covered under your original workers’ comp claim if it is related to the work duties that initially caused the injury.

If the new injury is unrelated to the previous one, you may be eligible to file a new workers’ compensation claim. However, this process can be more complicated if there is a previous claim because you may face greater resistance from the insurance company. That is why you must work with a workers’ comp lawyer to ensure you follow the proper steps and meet the applicable deadlines.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Returning to Work After a Work-Related Injury

FAQ ( frequently asked questions )You will likely have many unanswered questions as someone who must decide whether to return to work now or wait some more. The FAQ section below may answer some of them, but feel free to schedule a consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney for further guidance.

When should I return to work after a workplace accident?

There is no such thing as the right time to return to work that will apply universally to everyone. When and whether you should return to work depends on the nature of your injuries, recovery progress, ability to recover fully, and other factors. You should only return to work when you have been medically cleared to do so and feel that you are physically capable of handling your regular job duties or an adjusted workload, if applicable.

Do I need to be fully healed to return to work?

No, not necessarily. Some employees can return to work on light duty before fully healing. However, this may be possible if your employer can provide accommodations that take into account your current physical capabilities as you continue to recover.

Should I return to work if my employer cannot offer light-duty employment?

If your employer cannot provide a light-duty role that fits your health restrictions, you should discuss your options with your healthcare provider and attorney. They can help you understand your options based on your unique situation with your long-term well-being in mind.

Can returning to work too soon put my workers’ comp claim at risk?

Potentially, yes. If you return to work before you are medically ready, it might not only affect your health and recovery but can also impact the benefits provided to you through a workers’ comp claim. Always seek advice from your healthcare provider and consult a workers’ compensation lawyer before making the decision to go back to work.

Can I get a settlement for workers’ comp if I work with restrictions?

Working with restrictions does not automatically disqualify you from receiving a settlement. The details of a workers’ comp settlement can depend on factors like the extent of your injuries and your ability to perform your modified job duties.

What happens if the insurance company won’t reach a settlement?

If you and the insurance company cannot come to a reasonable settlement, you should seek the assistance of a mediator or go through a workers’ comp hearing where a judge will make a decision. Either way, you might need legal counsel to know how to proceed in your specific situation.

Can I get fired or laid off if I do not return to work fast enough?

Employment laws regarding termination after a work-related injury vary by jurisdiction. Generally, it is against the law for an employer to fire or lay off an employee simply for being injured or filing a workers’ comp claim. However, if you cannot return to work for an extended period, your employer may legally be able to terminate your employment. This is especially true if you live in an at-will employment state, such as California, where employers may choose to terminate employment at any time and for any reason (or no reason at all).

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