Workers’ compensation helps you keep your finances in order when you are too injured to work because of a work-related injury. It doesn’t last forever, though. For example, in Georgia, workers’ compensation benefits can last up to 400 weeks, which is a long time, but it is still a definite end. What happens when your workers’ comp ends? Are you required to go back to work?
You can’t be forced to go back to work when your workers’ compensation benefits end, just how you can’t be forced to work at all when you’re employed at will. But your employer could take your refusal to work again as a sign that it is time to terminate your employment.
What’s important is that you don’t return to work until you are fully recovered from your injuries. Your primary care provider and treating physician – who could be one and the same – should evaluate your health conditions routinely while you are receiving workers’ compensation to see when you are healthy enough to return to work. Once you are, they will write a “Notice of Ability to Return to Work,” which will be forwarded to your employer and the workers’ compensation insurance provider.
Disability Benefits & Workers’ Comp
In an average workers’ compensation case, the injured worker needs a few weeks or months of benefits to comfortably recover. But severe and long-lasting injuries can trigger the need for extended benefits. At this point, temporary total disability (TTD) benefits can be granted to supplement your income for up to 400 weeks, which is the same upper limit to workers’ compensation benefits mentioned earlier.
At 400 weeks, your employer can move to terminate your benefits. But if you still aren’t healthy enough to work, then you could qualify for permanent total disability (PTD) benefits.
Light-Duty Work After an Injury
Another situation that can unfold while receiving workers’ compensation is that your employer might offer you light-duty work to bring back into the workplace. Light-duty work must be safe enough for you to conduct without exacerbating your injury or condition. It might also include working shorter shifts or fewer hours each week.
If you can complete light-duty work, then you can still get workers’ comp benefits to make up some of the difference between your pre-injury wages and what you earn once you return to the lessened workload. If you are offered reasonable light-duty work and you refuse to even try it, and without a doctor’s note saying you should not try it, then the insurance company can try to cancel your benefits outright.
When in doubt, you should always follow your doctor’s orders closely. Don’t hesitate to report any pains, aches, and problems you feel after you return to work, whenever that may be. You have to take care of yourself, first and foremost, because your employer and their insurer are probably more focused on profits and productivity.