I have worked for my employer for 20 years. Due to the type of extreme work that I did, over a period of time I damaged my spine and was told I had 2 herniated discs, one in my neck, the other in my lower back. Both areas also have bone spurs.
The first WC Dr. I went to told me I had a pulled muscle and sent me back to work Full duty. I had an MRI, which clearly showed the damage, but this Dr. chose to withold the results from me and off I went to work! Knowing I could not perform my job, but under the threat of termination, I did as instructed. I could not stay the day and left, got another WC Dr. and when he saw the MRI, he told me about the damage.
I eventually had surgery on my lower back which has not helped very much and another MRI revealed that the disc is still slightly bulging hence the pain I feel daily. The “well known” surgeon, has chosen to release me to work on light duty and has changed his mind about my neck. Apparently he has decided that it is due to “age” (I am 45). He refuses to treat my neck and has become defensive and evasive in my dealings with him. It is like all of a sudden he is done with my treatment even though I am only half way treated. I am in constant pain and cannot do anything!
By the way, my job was loading 8,000 pounds of freight a day, and this Dr. says it suddenly has nothing to do with 20 years of that! How can a Dr. turn on his patient like this? WC has been as unhelpful as they can be. I know the Dr. has been told by WC to end his treatment and get rid of me. What is my recourse? I am young, have a young family and can’t go on in this pain and do not feel that I deserve this lack of medical care.
Jodi Ginsberg responds: Darryl, thanks for your question. In many cases if you are terminated while involved in a workers comp case, the termination can actually help your case. If you are terminated for no justifiable reason (typical reasons we often see include “disobedience,” “company policy violation,” etc..) and you are on light duty or no work status then your case is actually enhanced because the insurance company no longer has the leverage of finding a light duty job for, after which they could cut off your temporary total disability benefits.
We sometimes see a situation where our client is on a light duty job that was created at the request of the insurance company, but the employer does not like the idea of having a non-productive employee hanging around and the employer ends up firing the injured worker. In such a case the insurance company then has to start paying temporary total disability benefits again because the claimant is no longer working.
Where you potentially face a problem with your case is when you are returned to full duty work. If you have been released to full duty and are subsequently fired, then you will most likely have to go to court (the State Board of Workers Compensation) to get your benefits started.
As you can see, your work status (full duty vs. light duty vs. no duty) is very important as is the timing of any termination.
At this point, it appears that you have been released to full duty, therefore you are exposed. There are several options here, including negotiating an agreement with the insurance company to refer you to a new treating physician, or filing for a Hearing to Change the Authorized Treating Physician, using your “claimant’s independent medical exam.”
Unfortunately you have discovered the truly unpleasant side of Georgia workers compensation.