Frequently Asked Questions - Can You Work While on Workers Compensation?
You can generally work while on workers’ compensation as long as you are not placed on a no work status by your authorized treating doctor. Specifically, if you are placed on a no-work status by your authorized treating doctor and receive lost wage checks from workers’ comp, you cannot work. In fact, if you are on a no-work status and receiving lost wage checks, you must certify under penalty of perjury that you are not working or receiving earnings/income during those time periods.
In many situations, your authorized doctor will not take you out of work entirely, but instead believes that you can work with certain restrictions, modifications, or limitations. These are often simply called “work restrictions”. If your doctor places you on some type of work restrictions (such as no lifting more than 20 pounds or no climbing of ladders) and your employer has work available within those work restrictions, you are not entitled to checks from workers’ compensation unless you earn less than 80% of your pre-accident earnings (based on your average earnings over the 13 weeks just before your accident). If you are working with restrictions and dip under that 80% figure, you will be entitled to some lost wage checks from workers’ compensation as long as you aren’t refusing employment offered within your limitations.
At each and every appointment with an authorized doctor, your physician will complete a 2 page document, sometimes called a “DWC-25”. The DWC-25 will contain the opinions and recommendations of your treating doctor including your current work restrictions. The physician sends a copy of this information to the insurance company (and sometimes your employer). You will want to ensure that you also receive a copy of the DWC-25 following each appointment for multiple reasons.
First, if your doctor makes recommendations for future testing (such as a nerve test or an MRI) or recommends medical treatment (such as an injection, physical therapy or even surgery), you will want a copy of the actually written recommendation in the event that the insurance carrier does not agree to provide it in a timely manner. In order for you or your attorney to file a claim for any medical testing or treatment recommended by your treating doctor, you must have written documentation from the doctor making the recommendation. The quickest and easiest way to obtain this information is from the completed DWC-25 that can be obtained at each visit. While your attorney can request this documentation from your treating doctor on your behalf, this can often result in delays while waiting for the requested documents. You, as the patient, can usually obtain a copy of the DWC-25 and/or other written documentation regarding the specific medical care or testing being sought at the actual visit.
You will also want a copy of the DWC-25 in order to know the specific work restrictions assigned by the authorized doctor. This way, you will always know your current work restrictions/limitations to ensure that you are not doing anything outside of your restrictions, whether at work or otherwise. After each doctor’s visit, you should let your employer know your current work restrictions. If your employer claims to have work to offer you within your work restrictions, you should return to work and attempt to perform the job provided. Bring a copy of the DWC-25 (or some other documentation establishing your work restrictions) with you to work. If your employer attempts to force you to do more than what your current limitations allow, you should refuse to perform any such work and provide your employer with a copy of your current work limitations contained on the DWC-25.
As indicated above, if your employer offers you work but you are not earning at least 80% of your pre-accident earnings (based on the average earnings for the 13 weeks before your industrial accident), you may be entitled to some additional lost wage benefits from work comp. You will typically be asked to complete Employee Earning Reports (also called “DWC-19s”) to document any earnings or income during that particular time period. For each time period, if you earned less than 80% of your pre-accident earnings, you are entitled to some lost wage checks as long as you aren’t refusing employment. Otherwise, the insurance company would likely refuse to pay you and claim that you are “voluntarily limiting your own income”.
There are some situations where you may disagree with your treating doctor regarding your work restrictions (or other recommendations/opinions). Unfortunately, your authorized doctor is the only opinion that matters. Therefore, simply refusing to show up when the employer claims to have work available is not beneficial to your case. Your employer should ensure that the job offered is truly within your restrictions. If they decide to send you home because they cannot accommodate your limitations, you would be entitled to lost wage checks. Please understand this is very different from simply refusing work and not showing up. In those situations, it will be extremely difficult to convince the judge later that you did not limit your own income by failing to report for a job within your work restrictions.
In fact, refusing to return to work within the restrictions assigned by your doctor would not only preclude you from receiving lost wage checks, but it could also jeopardize your employment with your company. If work is offered and you refuse, you may end up being fired for job abandonment or they may simply fill your position with someone else. If you are truly unable to do the job offered even if it is within the work restrictions assigned by your doctor, you may want to consider using your one-time change in treating doctors to see if a new doctor has different opinions. Because you are only entitled to one change of one doctor one time over the entire life of your claim AND you typically do not get to choose your change of doctors, you should strongly consider consulting with a lawyer before using your change of doctors. Another option is to attempt to use sick or personal time to receive income during these time periods since workers’ compensation would not be required to pay you lost wage checks if work is offered within your restrictions.
Many injured workers feel they were treated poorly or unfairly by their employer or their insurance company after they suffer an accident or injury. And, many injured workers are concerned they may lose their job once they get injured for reasons unrelated to their accident. Other injured workers are worried they may not be able to return to their former employment due to their injuries. Please understand there is no requirement to continue working for the same employer once you suffer an on the job accident or injury. You are entitled to authorize medical care whether you continue working for the same employer or not. However, if you are receiving lost wage benefits, starting a new job could affect your checks. Therefore, you should consult with a lawyer before starting a new job to see how it affects your lost wage checks.