April 20, 2019

Be on Your Best Behavior if Your Attempt to Return to Work with a Light or Full Duty Release

return to work under WC-240An area of concern for many workers’ compensation claimants has to do with returning to work under a fully or light duty release.  I always remind my clients about the importance of having a WC-240 form in hand before attempting to return to work.  The WC-240 is an official State Board form completed by the authorized treating physician that sets out specifically the restrictions that must be accommodated by  your employer when you try to return to work.

If you return to work without a WC-240 and cannot perform the job tasks, your employer is not obligated to restart your TTD benefits.  If you try to return to work at a job within the WC-240 restrictions and cannot perform that job your TTD benefits will resume automatically (although the employer can later challenge you on the medical issue).

I recently ran across an interesting twist on this return to work issue.  The case arose in Arkansas which apparently has similar rules to Georgia about return to work issues.  In the Tyson Poultry vs. Francisco Narvaiz case, Mr. Narvaiz injured his left shoulder and was out on TTD.  His condition improved and he was released to light duty work.  While working light duty he got into a verbal altercation with his supervisor and called her a vulgar name that I will not repeat, and Tyson Poultry fired him but refused to reinstate his TTD.  Tyson argued that Narvaiz’ termination was equivalent to a refusal to work and thus should relieve them of their obligation to pay TTD benefits.

The Arkansas workers compensation commission (equivalent to Georgia’s State Board) ruled in favor of Narvaiz, reasoning that the termination was Tyson’s decision and not a voluntary refusal by the employee.  The Arkansas appeals court reversed and ruled in favor of Tyson, but the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed and found in favor of Narvaiz and accepting the reasoning of the commission.

While I think that the Georgia State Board would rule in a similar fashion, I do think it is wise for an employee who is returned to work with a WC-240 to light or full duty make every effort to avoid situations where he might be fired for misconduct.  I can easily see a scenario where the employer would argue that the employee intentionally acted rude in order to get fired – in such a situation the State Board might very well find that intentional actions by an employee to get terminated from a WC-240 described job is equivalent to refusing to perform that job.

I therefore counsel my clients to be on their best behavior when attempting to return to work and avoid responding to sarcastic comments from supervisors.

 

How do Workers’ Compensation Adjusters Pressure Authorized Doctors?

Have you ever wondered how an insurance adjuster can influence your authorized workers’ compensation doctor?   If you work in an industry where employees often get hurt, or where work injuries are likely to be serious, you can be certain that your employer’s insurance company has directed the human resource director at your company to include specific doctors on your company’s posted panel.  Insurance adjusters know that physicians who derive most or all of their income from workers’ compensation referrals will be much less likely to keep you off work or order expensive tests.

The problem, of course, is that delays in needed tests, or delays in needed treatment can result in permanent injury to you.  Further, if a panel doctor returns you to work and you are unable to perform your duties, you are likely to be fired putting you in a difficult financial situation and psychologically deterring you from pursuing your rightful benefits.

In this video I discuss a case where the authorized doctor flat out ignored his own physical therapist’s conclusions about my client’s very limited use of her arms, and issued a full duty return to work.  I won’t let the insurer get away with this, of course, but I wanted you to see how broken the workers’ compensation medical system has become.  I’d be willing to bet that this doctor knows that he was not living up to his oath to offer full and complete treatment to his patients, but his interest in making money and seeing those referrals seems to override his conscience.