We recently got a workers’ compensation question from a reader named Kelsie. In her email, Kelsie explained that after returning to her job with some restrictions, her work injury actually got worse. Now, she’s thinking about quitting that job to accommodate her health needs and speed up her work injury’s healing process. Would Kelsie get in any trouble for leaving, and what impact would it have on her workers’ compensation benefits? Since we don’t know exactly where Kelsie lives or whether she’s a federal employee, we’ll offer some general tips below.
Step 1: Report Your Injury Getting Worse to Your Supervisor and Treating Physician
Whether you’re a federal or private employee, we suggest filing a second injury report with your supervisor. Federal employees can reference page 42 of CA-550, Questions and Answers About the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). It says employees who must stop working to seek medical care after returning to work can receive lost wage compensation. If a doctor clears you with restrictions and your work injury gets worse, tell your supervisor. You should then schedule a follow-up appointment with the doctor that’s treating your work injury to re-evaluate your job restrictions. That way, you can review what options are available to address this problem under the insurance provider’s plan.
Maybe that means taking time off to let your work injury heal while you receive lost wage benefits. Otherwise, you could potentially qualify for Social Security disability benefits if your workers’ compensation runs out. Until you ask, you can’t know all options available for dealing with a job that’s making your work injury worse. However, quitting should be your last resort whenever your current light duty or job restrictions make your work injury worse.
Step 2: Ask HR About Taking FMLA or Short-Term Disability Leave for Your Work Injury
If your work injury gets worse once you’re back on the job, taking FMLA leave might be another option. Many companies have FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) policies offering up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. If you still receive regular lost wage payments from workers’ compensation, this may be the best solution. That way, you still have some income while your work injury heals. Since every state has its own workers’ compensation laws and not all companies offer FMLA leave, talk to HR. Your company might also offer short-term disability (STD) coverage. In most cases, STD coverage provides reduced wages for up to 12 weeks for eligible employees. Your HR department should help you find the right solution for your ongoing work injury issues.
Step 3: Understand the Consequences of Leaving Your Job
When you quit your job for any reason, you cannot apply for unemployment. Workers’ compensation has two benefits: medical and lost-wage payments. If you decide to quit to avoid further injury, your employer’s insurer should cover related medical bills. However, any lost-wage payments you receive now will end once you quit. If you already maxed out those workers’ comp benefits, then quitting makes no difference. (This can vary according to state law; ask your HR department.) Kelsie asked if she’d get in trouble for leaving to avoid further injuries. Every decision has consequences, so here’s the most likely outcome:
- Partial wage payments from workers’ comp will end. Instead, tell the doctor your job restrictions resulted in additional work injury issues.
- You may have to pay for related medical expenses going forward.
- You cannot file for unemployment or sue your employer after you quit, in most cases. If you think your current job restrictions are unreasonable, consult a lawyer for free.
Related: How Maximum Medical Improvement Can Affect Workers’ Comp
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.