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Can My Manager Force Me to Return to Work Too Soon After a Workplace Injury?


When you’ve experienced a workplace injury, the critical factor determining when you can return to work is the doctor’s report from your most recent visit. Every employer has return to work policies governing workplace injuries. You will know if your manager is asking you to return to work too early if their request doesn’t align with your return-to-work timeline or the restrictions provided by your doctor. After your injury, your doctor, employer, and a workers’ compensation representative will keep track of your return-to- work timeline, which is set once you’ve received treatment. After your doctor determines you are clear to return to work, you will need to return or risk adverse action from your employer.

The return-to-work timeline, employer recovery program, and ongoing doctor’s appointments all work together to ensure every employee is aware of their work requirements. These are general guidelines, and it’s important to remember that every situation is unique. If your manager pressures you to return to work sooner than your documentation dictates, it’s best to revisit workplace rules and the workers’ compensation doctor’s guidelines.

What is a Return-to-Work Timeline?

Once you’ve been injured or diagnosed with a qualifying occupational illness, your workers’ compensation timeline begins. How long the program will cover your recovery time depends on the severity of your prognosis and your doctor’s evaluation order. Return to work timelines are not universal – they depend on the circumstances of each injured or ill worker.

Generally, your return-to-work timeline will progress as follows:

  • Workplace Injury or Occupational Illness Occurs: An inciting incident taking the form of a traumatic accidents or occupational illness
  • First Encounter Diagnosis and Treatment: Usually includes emergency care or illness diagnosis
  • Employer Notification: Once treated and stabilized, the details of the injury or illness should be reported to your employer
  • File Workers’ Compensation Claim: All required documentation must be filed with the state’s workers’ compensation office by the filing deadline
  • Continued Medical Oversight and Care: An injured or ill worker should continue to receive medical evaluation on schedule to update the workers’ compensation medical evaluation form.
  • Release to Work Notice: A worker will receive notification of partial impaired, light duty, or seated work release order.

The doctor overseeing the workers’ compensation case may also include a Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) notification stating the worker has improved as much as medically possible. The doctor’s evaluation determines if the workers’ condition will or will not improve with further treatment. If a worker receives an MMI notification, the doctor will either release the worker to return to duty or assign a permanent impairment rating.

How Your Return-to-Work Status is Determined

When preparing to return to work, it’s important to remember who determines your return-to-work date. Your manager may want you to return to work immediately, and your workers’ compensation representative may want to wrap up the case as soon as possible. Regardless of their positions, only the doctor handling your case can decide when you’ve received adequate care resulting in a safe return to work. Once you realize the outcome of your return-to-work status is determined by your physician’s evaluation, much of the confusion in your return date and any associated stress should be eliminated. If your condition is severe or not improving, your doctor’s evaluation will include a disability rating used by the workers’ compensation system to determine next steps.

What Happens if You Refuse to Return to Work?

Once a doctor has released a worker to return to duty, refusing to return to work can lead to adverse actions by your employer and/or termination of lost wage benefits from the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. Studies have shown that the longer a worker remains away from their job, the more difficult it is to return. Even if a worker feels they aren’t ready to return or do not want to adhere to limited duty status, they may not have many options. Refusing to return to work can lead to the workers’ compensation representative closing the claim. Continued refusal to report to work after being cleared for duty can lead to terminated employment. Being fired for cause, like refusing to return to work after a cleared injury claim, can also mean the worker would be ineligible to file for unemployment benefits. It’s important to remain in communication with your employer and be proactive in your case. If you feel your injury is persisting and presents a hurdle to fulfilling your employment duties, you have the right to seek a second opinion from another medical professional regarding your return-to-work status.

Expenses for second opinions are not typically covered by the workers’ compensation program, so the worker would be responsible for covering those costs. If your doctor affirms your inability to return to work claim, you may have cause to seek a hearing with the workers’ compensation board. If your disagreement with your workers’ compensation outcome and doctor’s rating has led to workplace mistreatment, or you believe your claim wasn’t handled properly, contacting an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer may be necessary.

Let Us Help You Fight for Your Rights

At Leigh Law Firm, we have worked for many years to help injured workers fight to be granted the workers’ compensation they deserve. If you’ve been injured or developed an occupational illness in San Diego or Woodland Hills, and you’ve been mistreated by the system, we can work with you to research the details of your case and fight to protect your health and job. Our San Diego workers’ compensation attorneys and Woodland Hills workers’ compensation attorneys can meet with you to discuss the details of your case and develop a strategy. The attorneys at Leigh Law Firm are available today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. Call (619) 473-7569 to get started.