If your doctor releases you to return to work, it’s normal to have questions about how this affects your Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. Does my employer still have to pay for my medical treatment if I am released by my doctor? Do I need to take any further steps in order to be eligible for benefits? To answer these questions and more, we encourage you to read through the following article to learn more about your legal options for retaining workers’ compensation after being released back to work.
We also invite you to call The Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt to schedule a free consultation with experienced Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Mark Hurt. For over two decades, Mark has been helping those injured secure full and fair compensation under the law. We represent workers’ comp clients on a contingency-fee basis, meaning we are only entitled to a fee if benefits are secured.
Can A Full Duty Work Release Compromise My Virginia Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Simply stated, a full-duty work release can compromise an injured employee’s workers’ compensation benefit eligibility. If you are reading this article, then one of two things has likely happened:
- Your treating workers’ compensation doctor told you that he or she has no more medical treatment to offer you and that you will have to live with your pain or impairment for the rest of your life; or
- Your treating doctor said you are released to return to work “full duty, no restrictions” even though you have suffered permanent impairment (i.e., loss of function) or have not yet recovered full function of your injured body parts.
There are significant issues with both of these scenarios, including:
- If an individual has not fully recovered from the work-related injuries, the worker may have trouble returning to work or performing their job duties;
- If a doctor releases an injured employee to full duty, they can lose their workers’ compensation benefits and protections. When a full-duty release is issued, a Virginia workers’ compensation insurer is no longer required to pay wage loss replacement benefits for temporary total disability or temporary partial disability; and
- A full-duty release may also affect a claimant’s ability to obtain federal benefits. For example, if a physician is unwilling to document the condition, an injury victim may be unable to obtain accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
How to Determine If You Remain Eligible for Workers Comp Benefits When Your Doctor Releases You to Return to Work
Virginia workers are typically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured while on the job. However, if a doctor releases an injured employee to return to work, but they are still suffering from an injury, then it could compromise their workers’ compensation benefit eligibility. If this happens, however, it may still be possible to retain weekly workers’ compensation payments despite being released to full duty without restrictions.
Under Virginia law, injured workers should not be released to return to their pre-injury employment until they are capable of performing all work tasks that they previously performed. This means that if an individual is unable to perform even 1% of their pre-injury job duties, they are not eligible to be released to full duty with no restrictions. In order to determine whether or not this is the case for you, we recommend contacting a top-rated workers’ compensation lawyer who can listen to the facts of your case and provide guidance based on their experience with similar cases in the past.
What Is the Difference Between a Full Duty and Light Duty Work Release?
Full duty and light duty are two different types of work. Full-duty workers are able to perform their jobs as they were before an injury, while light-duty employees can only perform a different job that is less strenuous than full-duty.
What is a Full Duty Work Release?
Full-duty workers can return to working at their normal pace as soon as they recover from their injuries. This means you can go back to your regular duties immediately after being released by your doctor or therapist, even if there is still some pain or discomfort involved in doing so.
What is a Light Duty Work Release?
When a doctor provides a light duty release (also referred to as a modified duty release), an injured worker is typically authorized to return to work with restrictions. Such restriction may address the amount of time an individual can work or limit individual tasks, such as driving, lifting, pulling, walking, running, sitting, or standing.
What Happens if My Workers Compensation Doctor Releases Me to Return to Work?
The type of release treating physician issues, as well as where a claimant is at in the workers’ compensation process, will determine what will occur when the worker returns to work.
If a doctor releases an individual to full duty and they are receiving weekly workers’ compensation benefits, the workers’ compensation insurance company will typically file a pleading with the Workers Compensation Commission requesting authorization to terminate benefits. So long as the pleading is accompanied by a copy of the full duty release, workers’ comp benefits can be stopped automatically.
If a full duty release is justified, and a physician states that an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), it may be possible to obtain an impairment rating and file a claim for permanent partial disability (PPD) for loss of function of a body part. Qualifying claimants are entitled to receive PPD benefits even if they return to full duty without restrictions.
Conversely, if a doctor releases an individual to light duty, Virginia workers’ compensation should continue as long as they have an Award Order. This means that a workers’ compensation insurer is not entitled to stop payments unless an injured employee is released to full duty. However, the insurer may require vocational rehabilitation to help find a job within the light duty restrictions or that an individual look for work to receive wage loss benefits.
What Can I do if I Am Released to Full Duty, But I Am Still Unable to Work?
If you are released to full duty but cannot perform your job, there are several things you can do, including:
- You can prove that a physician’s release is not based on accurate information or a complete description of your job duties. This may include showing them written documents from the employer or supervisor stating what tasks they were performing at the time of injury and how long it took for those tasks to be completed by other employees.
- You can also prove that a doctor’s release is not based on your current physical condition by providing medical records, notes from doctors who have examined you since injuring yourself, testimony from other doctors who have examined you since injuring yourself (if applicable), photographs showing injuries sustained during work activities, and other evidence.
- If a doctor is unwilling to consider all of her job duties when issuing a release, it may be beneficial to obtain a second opinion from a different treating physician.
- You can ask the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission to appoint a physician to conduct an Independent Medical Examination (IME).
Because a full-duty release can comprise workers’ compensation benefit eligibility, it is critical to take action if a physician issues a release without restrictions while an injured worker is still unable to perform their job-related duties.
As a Virginia workers’ compensation attorney firm-founding attorney Mark Hurt can provide guidance on how to best substantiate a claim for continued workers’ comp benefits.
What Should I Do If I Need Medical Treatment But Was Already Released By My Doctor to Return to Work?
The Workers’ Compensation Commission recognizes the difference between a work release and the need for additional healthcare treatment. Specifically, it has stated, “a valid release to work is not dependent on the injured employee’s recovery to the point that no further medical treatment is required.”
As such, when the Commission enters an Award Order providing lifetime medical benefits, an injured worker is entitled to all treatment that is reasonable and necessary to treat a workplace accident or occupational disease. This means that an individual may still qualify to receive medical care at the employer’s (and its insurer’s) expense despite being released for light or full duty.
If you need medical treatment but were already released by your doctor to return to work, make sure that:
- You ask your treating physician for additional restrictions to accommodate your condition; and
- You get a copy of your doctor’s release letter. In addition to being able to prove that the injury is no longer disabling, the letter can help ensure that any new restrictions are enforced by both parties.
Can I Choose a Different Doctor If My Workers’ Compensation Treating Physician Releases Me From Care Because I Have Reached Maximum Medical Improvement?
If your current treating physician releases you from care because he or she believes you have reached MMI, and the insurance carrier refuses to pay for treatment with another doctor, there may be a way out of this predicament.
Injured workers may be entitled to choose a doctor if the current workers’ compensation physician has released them from care; however, there is no guarantee that an insurance carrier will continue to pay for treatments with an alternative provider. For this reason, it is vital to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer before consulting with another healthcare provider.
What Can I Do If I Am Released Back to Full Duty After A Workplace Injury, But My Employer No Longer Has A Job Available?
If you were released to full duty but your job position is no longer available, it may be possible to pursue unemployment benefits. As an experienced workers’ compensation law firm,, we can evaluate the facts of your case and explain all available options for seeking additional compensation.
If You Have Questions About Your Continued Eligibility for Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Contact The Law Offices Of Mark T. Hurt To Schedule A Free Consultation.
We represent workers’ compensation clients on a contingency fee basis, meaning we are only entitled to a fee if we secure compensation for our clients. Don’t wait; you only have a limited amount of time to file a claim.
I started receiving services through this law firm in 2017 for my workers compensation case. Over the years, this firm has been attentive, kind, patient and understanding to my needs. My calls were returned promptly, if the associate was unavailable at that time and I have had ample opportunity to speak with Mr Hurt directly concerning my case. With Mary Wilson, Bart Conway, Mr Hurt and others behind the scene, my case has progressed smoothly. I am very pleased with the services and attention I received at this firm and would recommend Mr Hurt, Mary and Bart for your needs.