The simple answer to this question is: Heck Yes!!
As you progress through a typical work comp claim in Minnesota, you will likely be given work restrictions by your treating physician. You may be off work completely for some period of time or you might be able to continue working within restrictions. At some point, your treating physician might release you back to work with “no restrictions", thinking that he is doing you a favor. Unless your injury was very mild and temporary, a release to work with no restrictions can create many problems for you.
What Are Work Restrictions and Why Are They Important?
Following a work injury, it is often necessary for your physician to give you restrictions, in order to allow you to continue working without further injuring yourself. While this sounds like simple common sense, it can be a confusing issue for someone who’s never been through the work comp system. Also, many doctors are not familiar with the work comp system or prefer not to get involved, so this can also create problems.
An example of a very simple restriction might be “no lifting more than 50 pounds". Maybe you sprained your back or have a sore shoulder but don’t require surgery and just need a little time to heal. If you have a job that is not too physically demanding, you might be able to continue working with the restriction until you are fully healed.
On the other hand, if your injury is more severe, your physician may need to limit how much you can lift, how many hours a day you can work, or how much bending, twisting and turning you can do. Other injuries might require restrictions on the use of your arms, hands or knees. You might be limited to no use of ladders, no working at heights, no use of power tools, no exposure to dust or fumes........... the list of possible work restrictions is almost endless, depending entirely upon the nature and extent of your injury.
Why Are They Important?
Again, the common sense answer is that they are important to prevent you from aggravating your injury or re-injuring yourself as you recover. The goal of the work comp system is to return you to work at your date of injury job without wage loss. That can't happen if your job duties make your injury worse.
However, the other reason why work restrictions are important is that they provide you with the ability to recover wage loss benefits under the work comp system in Minnesota. Without restrictions related to your work injury, you do not have a claim for wage loss benefits. The restrictions do not have to be significant, but you need some restrictions related to the work injury or the insurance company will not have to pay you a wage loss benefit.
So, if your physician releases you back to work with no restrictions and you are then laid off or the employer does not have a job for you, you don’t receive wage loss benefits. I know this sounds crazy and unfair, because you are clearly out of work as the result of a work injury. However, no restrictions = no wage loss.
How Significant Do the Restrictions Need to Be in Order to Get Wage Loss Benefits?
The restrictions do not have to be significant at all. For example, if you had a minor low back injury and you are now limited to lifting no more than 75 pounds, this would be a restriction. Your actual job might never require you to lift anywhere near 75 pounds, so you would be perfectly capable of performing all your job duties within those restrictions. However, if the job ends or you are laid off for some reason, that 75 pound lifting restriction might allow you to claim wage loss benefits from work comp while you search for another job - or, if you find a job that pays you less than you were earning when you were injured.
What If the Insurance Company’s IME Doctor Says I Have No Restrictions?
This is very common. The insurance company may send you for an Independent Medical Examination (an IME) in order to get opinions they can use to cut off your benefits. The report from the IME doctor may say that you are capable of working full time without any restrictions. The insurance company may then attempt to discontinue your wage loss benefits and refuse to pay for any future vocational rehabilitation or medical treatment. At that point, it is very important to have a supportive treating physician who will write a letter for you or your lawyer, explaining that you still have some work restrictions which are related to your injury. The dispute would then be decided by a work comp judge at a hearing.
What If My Employer Won’t Take Me Back to Work Unless I Have No Restrictions?
Unfortunately, some employers have a “no light duty" policy and will not take you back unless you are released to full duty with no restrictions. This obviously can put you in a very difficult situation, particularly if you have a good job with benefits and the usual monthly financial obligations which most working people have. Under those circumstances, I have had many clients over the years feel that they were in an impossible situation. They felt as if they had no alternative but to ask their doctor for a release to work with no restrictions. Usually, they then returned to work and suffered at their job, often making the underlying injury worse or aggravating their symptoms.
To make matters worse, a work comp judge in Minnesota has no jurisdiction or authority to order an employer to create a light duty job or take you back to work with restrictions. In that situation, the employer holds all the cards and the employee has few options.
What If I Have Permanent Work Restrictions and My Employer Can’t Take Me Back?
If you have permanent restrictions from a work injury which has been accepted by the work comp insurance company, you may be eligible for a variety of work comp benefits. These would include wage loss benefits, compensation for permanent impairment, vocational rehabilitation services or even vocational retraining. For more information on the various types of benefits which might be available to you, please see some of our previous blog posts at Work Comp Talk.
If you have any questions or concerns about the issue of work restrictions, we are happy to answer your questions at any time with a completely free, no obligation consultation. We will meet with you in our office, in your home or on the phone to help you understand the work comp system and your rights.
Always be sure to let your doctor know about any difficulties you are having following an injury. While it is important to be able to return to work, your doctor should understand what your job duties are and how they might affect your injury and recovery. Simple, common sense restrictions from your doctor will protect you from re-injury on the job, but will also provide you with protection if you can’t work and need to claim wage loss benefits.
We hope that you have found this information helpful. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance or answer any questions for you. Attorney Steve Bradt has been representing injured workers all across northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years. If you’ve been injured, we can help.