Returning to Work After an Accident?
One of the great issues arising from a work accident in North Carolina is the question of returning to work. In minor accident cases, if the worker has quickly reached a Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) stage and has not been permanently disabled, returning to work will probably be a straightforward process when:
- Both the employer and the employee want work to resume as soon as possible;
- The absence of the worker did not warrant a replacement;
- Injuries generally heal well and are unlikely to have effects in the future;
- The claim does not attract much resistance from the employer or insurance carrier.
Those are precisely the reasons why, having suffered a more serious accident, a worker could be faced with far more unpleasant issues.
What are the employer’s obligations in North Carolina?
Your employer, when you have reached MMI must choose one of the following:
- Offer to resume your previous job, accepting any doctor’s restrictions;
- Give you other suitable work at a comparable wage;
- Keep your workers’ compensation disability benefits, including weekly wages, vocational and rehabilitation benefits until you have found another job.
If you suffered a permanent disability that prevents you from returning to your former position, your employer has to give you priority for any job opening you could qualify for, and has to maintain your benefits until you have found other employment.
What your employer cannot do is to refuse to reinstate you, reduce your pay or hours, demote you, give you tasks below your qualification level, force you to quit or cut your benefits until you have found suitable employment.
Not all workers are fit to go back to work when they are asked to.
Even if you find your previous job waiting for you when the doctor declares you fit and orders you to return to your employment, you still need to think very carefully before doing so.
The risk for the injured employee is that he might find out after a few weeks on the job that he is not fit to work. Having agreed to return to work formally terminated his entitlement to benefits, while the employer now has a reason to fire him if he is unable to perform his duties.
Fortunately in North Carolina, there is a provision in the Workers’ Compensation Act that allows you to escape this dilemma. Under a Trial Return-to-Work statute an employee can be released to work, with restrictions and for a maximum period of 9 months, without losing his or her rights to full workers’ compensation benefits.
In short, before going back to work after serious injuries, a North Carolina worker would do well to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in order to find out all the possibilities and consequences of this decision.
Unless you are absolutely sure about your medical condition and legal situation, contact Joe Miller Law in Elizabeth City today, where attorney Joseph Miller, Esq has been representing injured North Carolina workers for over 20 years. Call us locally 757-455-8889 or toll-free 888-694-1671 or send us an e-mail for a FREE, no commitment discussion of your case.