Employees injured on-the-job, especially safety officers, often have legitimate concerns about whether claiming a workers’ compensation injury will hinder or prevent future work in their chosen career path. This article is written to give the basics surrounding an injured safety officer and his or her return-to-work following an injury on duty.
Foremost, it is unlawful for any employer to terminate or otherwise discriminate against any employee for filing, or even considering filing, a workers’ compensation claim. This applies even if the injury is found to be due to some factor other than work exposures. If you feel you have been or may be discriminated against for filing a claim, you should contact a workers’ compensation and /or civil attorney. You may have increased rights under workers’ compensation and a potential civil claim. There are various time limitations regarding this type of claim and, therefore, a consultation should be made as soon as possible
However, the major concern for most safety officers is not whether they should file a claim, but whether they should accept an award for “permanent disability indemnity” following a claimed injury. Oftentimes, the term “permanent disability” leads to concern that an injured officer may be unable to continue his or her career. This, however, is not the case; but some detailed explanation is necessary.
Typically, an injured officer claims his or her injury, receives medical treatment until he or she has recovered, and is given a percentage of “whole person impairment” by a doctor. This percentage is ultimately converted in “permanent disability” (PD) and given a percentage. This percentage is worth a certain amount of money, as determined by the State Legislature, paid over a limited number of weeks.
Importantly, this percentage of permanent disability does not actually indicate the officer’s physical capabilities or abilities and for injuries after January 1, 2005, is NOT based on work restrictions. Instead, this PD simply represents a number that the doctor has assigned to the officer’s work-related injury based on objective and subjective evidence.
So, what, then, can prevent an injured officer from returning to work? The answer is permanent work restrictions placed on the injured officer by either his treating doctor or an evaluating physician. Work restrictions will be specific, such as “no lifting over 20 pounds,” or “no standing for greater than one hour.” If these restrictions are indicated as permanent then an officer’s employer begins a process of either accommodating the restriction, or in the worst case scenario, notifying the officer of the need for early retirement or separation from the department.
The distinction between collecting a PD benefit after a work-related injury or being given a permanent work restriction is an important one. Theoretically, an injured officer could be assigned 99% PD, collect all the indemnity associated with this amount, and still work full duties if his doctor found that his condition warranted no permanent work restrictions. Alternatively, an injury could result in 6% PD, but come with a work restriction that requires an early disability retirement.
The point is this: do not walk away from a PD award simply because you think it might hurt your future career. Your employer is legally required to pay PD as compensation for the fact that you were injured on the job. Pay attention to whether your doctor has indicated any permanent work restrictions. Be communicative with your doctor about your desire to keep working, and be candid about any planned retirement date. Most doctors have no desire to see their patients put out of work due to medical reporting.
But in all circumstances, whether you have questions regarding the amount of PD your injury may be worth, the nature of any work restrictions you have been given, or any other topic within workers’ compensation, take advantage of free consultations offered by workers’ compensation attorneys. Preserving your right to legal benefits and your right to continue working can sometimes be a delicate balance – it can only help to have a professional in your corner.