There has been serious confusion in New York about when and how Worker's Compensation claimants must look for work. This guide provides some useful tips.
Temporary Total Disability - No Work Required
When you are first injured, or usually after a surgery, most doctors (insurance company and injured worker doctors) would agree that you are totally disabled from being able to work for a period of time.
During periods of temporary total disability you need to only focus on your health and getting better. You will be entitled to wage replacement benefits and medical care, and you have no other obligation but to see your doctor and recover. It is only after a doctor finds you to be less than totally disabled that you will have certain obligations regarding looking for work.
Partial Disability - Must Look for Work
Recent case law (2012) in New York has left it up to the Workers Compensation Board to determine when and how a claimant must look for work. Because of this, and because the New York Workers Compensation Board wants to limit and shorten claims, if you are found to be less than totally disabled (known as a partial disability) then you MUST look for work within your capacity. You must look for work even if you cannot do your old job, but eventually plan to return to it.
Many people want to return to their job, but that job may not have light duty or limited duty. The look for work requirement does not mean you must find work, but you may have to look some place other than your own job even if you plan to return there.
He Said, She Said - Disagreements Between Your Doctor and the Insurance Doctor
An issue often arises where an injured worker's doctor may say the worker is totally disabled and the insurance paid doctor says partial disability. While you, or if you have an attorney, your attorney, will fight for a finding of total disability, you may be temporarily found to have a partial disability and some Judges may require you to look for work.
The sad part is that the obligation to look for work (which is not contained anywhere in the law) was first used to limit a person with a permanent partial disability, forcing them to look for work. The insurance industry, along with the Workers Compensation Board, has done quite a number to expand this limitation and turn being injured into a real chore, far beyond trying to get healthy and return to work!
Consequences - What if I Don't Look for Work?
Here is the kicker! If you are found to not have properly looked for work, then the Law Judge can (and I have seen it happen over and over) stop your weekly payments. You will still get medical care, but you may be barred from collecting lost wage replacement benefits - a harsh punishment.
In fact, it is sometimes unclear whether this is a permanent bar from benefits, or if you actually start to look for work whether you can have your benefits started up again.
Each and every case is incredibly fact specific and each and every judge has his or her own interpretation of what the punishment can and should be for 'not looking for work.'
What is a GOOD job search?
Again - what constitutes properly looking for work has been left open to interpretation, but if you sign up with your local Department of Labor One Stop agency, if you keep a good log of who, what, when you looked for work and you can demonstrate a good faith effort, then you probably have made a proper work search.
Merely saying you looked for work, or mentioning you sent out a resume is not enough. You can register online and keep records. You can purchase a notebook and keep records, you can sign up at the Department of Labor, you can take courses - all of these should help.
Best advice -- if you believe you can do some work, even with limitations, then do it. It is not easy out there for injured workers in New York.
Additional resources provided by the author
There are many places to get more information, you can check out www.thedisabilityguys.com (my website); the workers compensation board website at www.wcb.ny.gov and the New York Department of Labor.