When you are sent to a posted panel doctor by your employer, you can be sure that your employer and their insurance company will pressure your doctor to return you to full duty or light duty work.
Any type of “return to work” order can have significant implications in your work injury claim and put you at risk but light duty work releases seem to create a lot of confusion.
First, you may not agree with the doctor’s assessment of your restrictions. You may believe that the doctor overestimated your capacity to lift, carry, reach, crawl, climb, sit or stand. What should you do when your supervisor asks you to perform at task that you don’t think you can do?
Second, you may find that the “light duty” restrictions are not clear. For example, the doctor may limit you to a 15 lb. lifting restriction but does that mean you can be asked to lift and carry 15 lbs. constantly throughout the day? What happens if some of the loads you are lifting are 16 or 17 lbs. Should you try to lift those loads?
Often the workers compensation doctor may not fully understand what you do and the light duty restrictions may be silent as to some aspects of your work. What should you do then?
Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law, you do have an obligation to try to return to work under light duty. Your refusal to try to return would likely prompt the employer/insurer to move to cut off your benefits.
But you also have the right to a clear understanding of exactly what your light duty restrictions say. Many times, I see vague return to work restrictions that do not make sense in the context of the details of my client’s job. In such a case I would likely send my client back to his/her doctor to obtain a more detailed work restriction.
In the case of a vague light duty return to work order I will also be on the phone with the insurance adjuster and/or opposing counsel to make it clear that my client is trying to cooperate but needs more direction from the doctor.
In cases where my client tries to return to work but physically cannot perform the job offered, I will offer guidance to my client about what to say to his/her supervisor and I will document the work attempt in writing to show that my client made a good faith effort. At that point I may also advise my client to see a different doctor for another opinion. In some cases, the uncertainty about whether or not my client is capable of returning to work can make settlement a viable option.
You probably get the sense that I am in almost constant contact with my client during the time that he/she gets a light duty return to work and the return to work effort. Employers will use confusion in this process to their own advantage. Recently, for example, I blogged about a case where an injured worker’s benefits were denied when he returned to work light duty but performed tasks beyond the work restrictions.
You have to be extremely cautious when the workers’ compensation doctor issues a return to work release and you would be wise to have a lawyer by your side when you navigate these dangerous waters. If you are concerned about how to handle a looming return to light duty work release, please call me – I’d be happy to speak with you. My direct number is 770-351-0801.