When you're away from work because of an injury, it can often mean a lot of strain for you and your family. Even if you were hurt on the job and are receiving workers' compensation funds, the pain, reduced income and general boredom can be big sources of stress. Still, don't let those factors force you to return to work sooner than you should. You owe it to yourself to be fully recovered, or to request modifications to your duties if necessary.
Get Your Doctor's OK
If you were hurt on the job and a workers' compensation claim is involved, you'll need your doctor's OK before you go back to work. This note typically comes from the doctor, then to your insurer, and then to you. While every state is different, you'll often be required to give your employer notice within a certain period of time, stating that you are ready to return to work. In Oregon, for example, that period is seven days. Carefully read the doctor's instructions as well as any instructions from your state's workforce department, so you are sure you understand them. In some cases, your doctor may give you clearance only to return to work part-time or on a limited basis.
Discuss What You Can Do
State and federal laws dictate that your employer give you your job back -- or another job that is similar in nature. Getting you back to work is going to save the company money in workers' compensation claims, but that doesn't necessarily have to mean you're back to all of your regular duties. If you're unable to complete all of the tasks you once did, talk to your doctor and your employer about making changes to your duties to accommodate your injury, allowing you to work part-time, work from home or receive accommodations within the workplace that can help you do your job. Your employer is required to make these accommodations for you, and in many cases, it won't cost the employer any extra money. Each state has a vocational rehabilitation agency that can offer resources for people with disabilities or medical conditions.
Making a Plan for Improvement
Your employer wants you to be up to full speed as quickly as possible -- but on the other hand, she doesn't want you to get hurt again either. If your initial injury happened off the job and you then get re-injured while working, it could lead to a worker's compensation claim, and that's not ideal for the company. Still, you and your employer should come up with a plan for getting you back to all of your regular duties, as you're ready. A report from "Workforce Magazine" suggests creating a plan that gradually increases your workload over the course of three to six weeks, steadily putting you up to full working capacity. Do your best to follow the plan, but also monitor your health and your injury and don't be afraid to say something if you feel you're taking on too much too fast.
Not Injured on the Job? You Still Have Protections
If you were hurt away from your job and you work for a business with 50 or more employees, you'll still have the right to return to your job -- or a similar one -- under the Family Medical Leave Act. Under FMLA, you can take 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for a serious injury that makes it impossible for you to work. Your employer might require you to provide doctor's notes and might have other stipulations, so check your employee handbook for guidance. While you won't have to deal with workers' compensation issues, you can still ask your employer for modifications to your schedule and duties when you return to work.
- State of Oregon: Workers' Compensation Division: I Need to Get Back to Work, What Do I Do?
- U.S. Department of Labor: Office of Disability Employment Policy: Return-to-Work Toolkit: Background for Employers
- U.S. Department of Labor: Office of Disability Employment Policy: Stay-At-Work/Return-To-Work: Supporting Employees Who Experience Unexpected Illness or Disability
- State of Wisconsin: Division of Workforce Development: Top 10 Return-to-Work Myths -- and the Realities Behind Them
- U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act
- Reed College: VIII. Time Off/Leaves of Absence
- Photo Credit Alliance/iStock/Getty Images
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