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Do I Have to Take Time Off for a Work Injury?

After a workplace injury it can be struggle to keep some injured California workers from coming back on the job too soon. Whether these workers fear they will be fired if they take time off to heal and rest, or whether they are simply dedicated to the job, they will ignore doctors’ orders and march back into work as soon as their bodies will let them. As admirable as this indomitable spirit appears, rushing back to work may not be the best for you or your workers’ compensation claim.

Doctors’ Orders Should Prevail

When it comes to your health and your well-being, your doctor’s advice and recommendations should be taken seriously. This is especially true after you have suffered a workplace injury. Once you have reported your injury to your employer, you will want to go to see a medical professional right away (unless there is a special agreement with your employer, you must generally go to the doctor designated by your employer and/or its workers’ compensation insurer). After an evaluation to determine your health and medical situation, you should expect the doctor to provide you with recommendations that can include:

  • Follow-up appointments and procedures conducted by other specialists;
  • Prescription medication;
  • Limitation on activities like sports and tasks around the home; and
  • Limitations on your work activities.

These recommendations should be taking seriously. If you do not understand what your doctor is asking you to do or what limitations he or she is placing upon you, be sure to ask for clarification. The last thing you want is to misunderstand your doctor and wind up threatening your own health or your workers’ compensation claim.

Ignoring Your Doctor’s Orders Can Lead to Trouble

The limitations your doctor will place upon you are designed to give your body a chance to heal itself. If you have seriously injured yourself or if you are older, this healing process may take longer than it would for someone who is younger or who has less severe injuries. Pushing yourself too hard by returning to work when you are not ready to do so can jeopardize you as well as your coworkers. If you are used to lifting heavy loads or sitting in an uncomfortable chair for a significant period of time and your body cannot handle that task, you will find yourself in significant pain and may even exacerbate your injuries.

Furthermore, you may pose a danger to your co-workers by returning to work too quickly. Suppose that you operate heavy machinery for a living but have been prescribed medication to assist you in managing the pain you feel following a workplace accident. Consuming the medication may make you drowsy or otherwise impaired, which in turn can spell danger for your fellow coworkers who are depending on your skill and precision.

But there is a more significant reason yet why you ought follow your doctor’s orders when he or she tells you to stay home from work. The workers’ compensation benefits you will be receiving are dependent upon you having suffered a particular injury of a particular severity. The workers’ compensation insurer and others are expecting that you will be limited in your ability to work and perform physical and/or mental tasks. If your employer were to see you on the jobsite shortly after a workplace injury and before you had been cleared to return to work by a medical professional, your employer and/or its workers’ compensation insurer may begin to question the legitimacy and need for your workers’ compensation claim.

For example, suppose that Joe is a construction worker who injures his back by lifting a heavy load. The doctor recommends that Joe takes at least three weeks off before even attempting to return to work. Three days later, Joe shows up for work and begins going about his business as he was before the accident. Joe is in excruciating pain, but he attempts as best as he can to cover it up. Joe’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurer sees Joe and thinks that Joe was faking the severity of his injuries so that he could get more money by working and by collecting workers’ compensation benefits. Joe’s benefits are promptly cut off. When Joe is unable to get out of bed after several days of working, he is shocked to learn that he won’t be receiving any benefits because he is suspected of workers’ compensation fraud.

When You Really Want to Get Back to Work

If you must return to work, do so only with the permission of your treating physician and only allow yourself to do what your doctor recommends and what your body allows you to do. Doing more can not only jeopardize your health but it can also jeopardize your workers’ compensation claim if you end up needing it after all.

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