Yes. Reaching a worker’s compensation settlement after returning to work is common, especially for victims who can work with the injury but will still require ongoing care. The settlement amount will reflect the compensation owed for unpaid benefits and for future medical treatment.
After a workplace injury, the victim can recover workers’ compensation. This covers the worker’s wages that were lost because the job injury and its impairments kept him or her away from work completely. These payments are often known as total disability benefits. They are often paid regularly, when the worker would normally have received a paycheck. In many states, they are equivalent to two-thirds (2/3rds) of the worker’s weekly wages before the accident, up to a certain limit.1
The victim’s medical expenses are generally covered by the employer or the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer. However, in some cases, the worker will pay some medical expenses like co-payments.
When the worker is cleared to return to work, he or she must generally do so in order to keep receiving worker’s comp benefits. In some cases, though, the workers’ comp claim is still open, with no settlement having been reached. This can happen if the injured employee:
- paid medical bills out of his or her own pocket for the personal injury, like a co-pay or deductible,
- is owed attorneys’ fees,
- is likely to continue to need medical care, or
- suffered a permanent partial disability.
In these cases, the worker and his or her workers’ compensation lawyer can still negotiate a settlement with the employer’s insurance carrier, even though the worker is back on the job. These negotiations can take weeks or even months. The settlement aims to cover all of the following expenses:
- outstanding medical bills,
- attorneys’ fees,
- future disability payments, and
- future medical care.
Once struck, the settlement can be paid in either a:
- lump sum settlement, or
- structured arrangement, with payouts spread over a period of time.
Establishing an attorney-client relationship with a workers’ comp attorney to get their legal advice is the best way to ensure that you enforce your legal rights and recover adequate compensation for your work-related injury. This is especially important when deciding whether to settle your workers’ compensation claim. Settling the workers’ comp case can solidify your benefits. However, the finalized amount may not adequately cover your losses.
Do I have to return to work before getting a workers’ comp settlement?
Not necessarily. Many workers’ compensation claims get settled before the worker returns to the job. However, if the doctor clears the victim to return to work, then the victim will usually have to go back to work in order to continue receiving workers’ compensation. This can happen before the claim has settled.
Will I keep receiving benefits if I go back to work?
Potentially, yes. If the victim’s treating physician clears him or her for light-duty work or puts restrictions on their job duties, the injured worker can continue to receive workers’ comp benefits if the light-duty work pays less.
This happens most often when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI) but is not fully healed. If he or she has a permanent disability that keeps them from working their old job, they may continue to receive temporary total disability benefits even after returning to work. Employers may have to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees who return to the job with work restrictions, or find them a new job that they can perform.
Can my employer retaliate against me for the open claim?
No, retaliating against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim is unlawful. Based on the nature of the retaliation, workers can generally sue their employer for:
- wrongful termination,
- back wages,
- job reinstatement, and
- increased compensation.
They also may be entitled to a penalty or increased workers’ compensation benefits.2
Workers who return to the job while their workers’ compensation case is still pending should not experience any ill-will from their employer. The employer is not involved in the negotiation of the claim – only the worker and the workers’ compensation insurance company are involved. However, the employer may voice frustration over having to pay higher insurance premiums because of the injury. If the employer does decide to take action on these frustrations and discriminates against the worker, it can amount to unlawful retaliation.
A workers’ compensation attorney from a reputable law firm can help workers who have been retaliated against for invoking their rights under workers’ compensation law.
- See, e.g., California Labor Code 4654 LAB.
- See, e.g., California Labor Code 132(a) LAB.