Why Most Injured Workers Just Want to Go Back to Work
Most everyone who comes to our office just want to go back to work. If they're receiving benefits, they've long figured out that these benefits represent literally just a fraction of the earnings they received prior to their injury. The Temporary Disability insurance payment is 2/3 of your Average Weekly Wage, but Workers' Compensation caps off the level of compensation for lost earnings. The amount of the cap changes from year-to-year based on inflation and other factors. As of 2017, the maximum amount of Temporary Disability works out to be about $1172/week, or just under $4700/month.
Further limiting the amount of Temporary Disability insurance is the two-year cap on payments, after which the payments stop. Unfortunately, many injuries are not fully healed within that two-year time frame. This is especially the case for injuries requiring major surgery, but workers may see their injuries exacerbate if the insurance carrier or their chosen doctors are not proactive in getting workers in for treatment right away.
For instance, a common workplace injury is "frozen shoulder," which takes about one to three years to develop and heal. Its development occurs in three stages:
If Temporary Disability runs out and an injured worker is still unable to go back to work, they're often relegated to finding an alternative means of financial government assistance, such as Social Security Disability or State Disability Insurance. Like with Workers' Compensation temporary disability, these other benefits are very limited. Moreover, you typically cannot collect more than one source of government assistance at a time (e.g., collecting both Temporary Disability and State Disability Insurance). Doing so can constitute fraud and is a prosecutable offense.
Getting Back to Working at Your Job
At least from a financial perspective, it's in many clients' best interests to go back to work. Most of our clients simply want just that.
While employers are technically not allowed to fire you, cut your pay, or otherwise take retaliatory action for your having filed a Workers' Compensation claim, sometimes it's just not possible for the employer to leave your position open for when you do recover. It always depends on the circumstances, which are largely determined by:
What Happens When You Cannot Return to Your Job
If your injuries prevent you from returning to your employment, you may be entitled to Permanent Disability Payments. Like with Temporary Disability, these payments are very limited and capped off at $290/week.
Getting on Permanent Disability doesn't mean that you have to remain off work for the rest of your life, however. It's also very unlikely that many people would want to, given the limited funds that Permanent Disability provides. Rather, for those who are able, injured workers may opt to instead engage in learning a new skill set by going to vocational school, community college, doing an apprenticeship, or other similar training. This affords them with opportunities to apply for different work that will accommodate their physical limitations.
For injured workers who need to look to undertaking job training for finding a new career, we recommend doing so as soon as possible. Statistics show that the longer you are off work, the less likely you are to ever return.
The Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher
In addition to Permanent Disability payments, the Workers' Compensation insurance can prove you with a Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher to pay for job placement, training, related expenses, and equipment. The equipment may include a computer, which may prove particularly helpful for older generations who have limited computer skills.
For injuries occurring after 2013, this voucher is available if your employer has not made an offer of work within 20 days of collecting your last Temporary Disability payment. If your employer made a valid offer of modified or alternative work and you declined, you will generally not be entitled for the Voucher. We say valid because that modified or alternative work must meet guidelines of being within your work restrictions, lasting at least 12 months, etc. If, for instance, the employer extended the modified work for only 3 months and then terminated your employment, you may still be eligible for the Voucher.
The claims administrator allocates the funds to you and/or your training provider for an amount up to $6,000 (for injuries occurring after 2013). You will need to fill out the necessary forms, provide receipts, and complete other requirements. The claims administrator will reimburse you and/or your training provider within 45 days of receiving your completed paperwork.
The Return to Work Supplement Benefit
In addition to the Voucher, injured workers who are eligible for the Voucher may additionally apply to receive a one-time payment of $5,000. This payment is part of the Return-to-Work Supplement Program, which gets doled out from a $120 million annual fund set aside for helping injured workers whose Permanent Disability payments are disproportionately low compared to their previous earnings.
To qualify, you must be eligible for the above Voucher and file the necessary forms either online or in person at your Workers' Compensation District Office. You must also generally file within one year of having received the Voucher.
A Happy Ending
A lot of the information above sounds like a bunch of doom and gloom, as Workers' Compensation is a system of very limited benefits. In addition to losing money, administrative and procedural delays, doctors who evaluate you without ever meeting you, claims administrators who may not care, and sometimes attorneys can all seem to be working against you. Getting injured is already a very stressful situation, and having a Workers' Compensation claim can heighten that stress depending on the various factors above.
In coming out of the system, however, we've had clients move on from this apparent nightmare by going through vocational training, getting a new career or opening their own lucrative businesses. The latter is the most attractive option for many clients, as it allows them to manage their own work restrictions. In our practice, some examples include a mechanic who used his settlement to open his own mechanic shop, as well as a former laborer who obtained their real estate license. Other alternative job options include computer programming, engineering, health industry jobs (e.g., nutritionist), sales, and even law school. Moving on may require a great deal of motivation, but the point is that it'll be completely up to you to make your own happy ending.