When a North Carolina employee suffers an injury on the job, the goal is for them to return to suitable employment when they are able. They may be unable to immediately return to the job that they were doing before their injury if they can even return to it at all. It does not make medical sense for them to strain to perform their duties if they have still not fully recovered from their injuries. Some employees may return to work with restrictions on their duties.
Your Doctor Decides When You Can Return to Work
As the injured employee, you may be unable to make this decision independently, even though it is your health on the line. Much depends on the treating doctor’s opinion. However, they may take a middle ground, stating that you can return to work but not fully. To continue receiving benefits, you must do what the doctor says. However, following the doctor’s orders is a two-way street. Your employer must also abide by what the doctor says.
The Definition of “Suitable Employment” Under North Carolina Law
While the plaintiff must return to “suitable employment” when they are able, it may not involve the work that previously suited them. Under North Carolina law, the term “suitable employment” can mean one of two things:
- Work before the employee reaches the point of maximum medical improvement within the employee’s work restrictions.
- After they have reached MMI, employment that the employee is capable of performing considering the employee’s preexisting and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills, education, and experience, and is located within a 50-mile radius of the employee’s residence.
The employee will usually see a physician from a list provided by their employer. They can only see their own doctor if they have requested approval from the North Carolina Industrial Commission. The treating physician has diagnosed the employee’s injury, and they are overseeing their care. The doctor knows what duties the patient is capable of, and they will prescribe limitations on their work.
Hopefully, the doctor will listen to the injured employee’s input as they reach their conclusion about their ability to work. The law tries to strike a balance between productivity and protecting the worker’s health. Some job duties may jeopardize the worker’s continuing recovery.
However, the insurance company can terminate benefits if you do not return to work, subject to restrictions if you are deemed able to by your doctor. They are usually looking for a reason to stop paying, so they can create a difficult situation for you.
Common Examples of Restrictions After Work-Related Injuries
Examples of work restrictions that a physician may order include:
- Limitations on the amount of weight that the worker may lift
- No repetitive use of a certain hand
- Breaks mandated at certain intervals
- Limitations on the consecutive amount of time that the worker must stand
- Limits on the length of a shift
The employer must comply with these work restrictions. They can jeopardize their employee’s health if they fail to observe work restrictions. If the employer refuses to comply, the employee can continue to collect their workers’ compensation benefits and does not have to come to work. You should contact an attorney if you are pressured to work in a manner that violates your work restrictions.
How Workers’ Compensation Changes Once You Reach Maximum Medical Improvement
After you reach the point of maximum medical improvement, the situation then changes. Being able to receive continued benefits does not necessarily depend on doing your previous job, subject to your restrictions. Instead, the consideration changes more to whether you work at all and the type of work that you accomplish.
Your work restrictions for your previous job do not matter as much. The question then becomes whether you can do any work, considering your condition and training. This test is much more strict, and it can result in a cutoff of your benefits.
The employer can also fire you if you cannot perform your job duties. However, you may still have a disability rating and receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Of course, when you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement is a matter of controversy. The doctor may prematurely declare you at this point, and you may want a second medical opinion. You are allowed to seek another opinion, and the insurance company must grant your request to see another doctor. If the insurance company refuses to allow you to obtain a second opinion, you can ask the North Carolina Industrial Commission to order it.
Contact a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
Horton & Mendez Injury Attorneys are in your corner when you need a fighter, as you often do in workers’ compensation cases. We know how to stand up to insurance companies that are trying to save money at your expense. You can fight any decision against you and not get benefits in the first place.
Workers’ Compensation FAQs
Can I appeal if my benefits are taken from me?
Yes. If you are unable to resolve the situation with the insurance company satisfactorily, you can file an appeal with the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
How will I pay a workers’ compensation attorney?
You do not need to pay us money upfront. Money is tight enough for you. Our attorneys work for you on a contingency basis.
Why do I need an attorney for a workers’ compensation appeal?
You are often dealing with complex medical information and must contest the conclusion of the medical professionals that are working for the insurance company. An attorney knows how to analyze the information and present your most effective arguments.