Employees Unable to Work
The treating physician may tell the employee that he should not work after getting hurt on the job. A note from a doctor stating that an employee cannot work must be honored, even if the employee wants to work. The document must indicate how long the employee is to remain off work. If you receive a note without an ending date, you or the employee will need to contact the doctor's office and get a date. This date is usually the employee's next doctor visit. At that time, he will be examined again and the doctor will determine whether or not he may return to work. If he is able to return, you will receive a work release indicating the date he may return to work and if there are restrictions. Do not return an employee to full duty unless it is specified on the work release.
Keep track of the dates when an injured employee is off work and their next doctor appointment. You should hear from the employee after this appointment with an update on his work status. If not, call him or the doctor. Workers' compensation wages end the day an employee is able to return to work, and this must be communicated to the insurance company.
Check in with an injured employee periodically by telephone and with handwritten notes or cards. Ask how he is doing and if he is satisfied with the care he is receiving. Someone who is unable to work is limited to what he should be doing in his personal life, too, and should be taking care of himself. If you have a hard time reaching him on the telephone, he may be out doing things that he is not supposed to be doing. A person cannot properly recover from an injury if they are not at home taking care of themselves. This doesn't mean that they can never leave the house. Just be on the alert for someone who may be doing something to further aggravate his condition. Contact your insurance company if you have any suspicions.
Employees who are unable to work should be put on FMLA leave if this is allowed in your state after a work-related injury. Follow the standard procedures for initiating the leave. If the employee is still unable to work when the twelve weeks of leave is exhausted, he will remain employed and continue his workers' compensation leave. The two leaves can run concurrently.
An employee may retain an attorney and sue the company after a work-related injury. If this happens, you may not be required to forward any information to the attorney's office without a summons or court order. Notify the insurance company if you are informed in writing of a lawsuit. From this point on, it's best to leave future correspondence about the claim between the insurance company and the attorney. You will probably be advised not to discuss the case with the employee.
An employee may have a permanent disability as a result of the injury. This disability will be rated by a percentage. For instance, an employee may have a 10 percent permanent disability in his shoulder or a 60 percent disability in hearing. The time to determine a permanent disability is lengthy. First, the employee will have undergone treatment with a physician to the point where it is determined that the condition is no longer improving. Next, the employee may be referred to a Qualified Medical Examiner (QME) to determine the final status of the disability. A QME is a physician approved by the state's workers' compensation board to determine the percentage of disability suffered by an injured worker, among other things.
What happens after a permanent disability has been determined?
If the employee will no longer be able to perform his usual job, the company should place him in another position that meets his skills and physical abilities. If a suitable position is not available, the employment may be terminated, and the employee will start vocational rehabilitation, paid for by the insurance company.
Be very careful about coming to your own conclusion that an employee will not be returning to work and separating him from your payroll records. Workers may be protected against this in your state and must remain on a leave of absence on your personnel records until a final determination has been made by the insurance company. In the event of a long-term leave from work, this puts employers in a difficult situation because someone needs to be hired and trained to do the work on a temporary basis. If you hire a temporary employee to cover for the injured worker, make it clear from the beginning that the position is temporary, you do not know how long employment will continue, and you cannot guarantee a permanent position.