Reaching a worker’s compensation settlement after returning to work is common. This is especially true if you can work with the injury but will still require ongoing care. The settlement amount should reflect the compensation owed for unpaid benefits and for future medical treatment.
After a workplace injury, you can recover workers’ compensation. This covers your wages that were lost because the job injury and its impairments kept you away from work completely.
These payments are often known as total disability benefits. They are often paid regularly, when you would normally have received a paycheck. In many states, they are equivalent to two-thirds (2/3rds) of your weekly wages before the accident, up to a certain limit.1
Your medical expenses are generally covered by the employer or the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer. However, in some cases, you will pay some medical expenses like co-payments.
When you are cleared to return to work, you 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 you:
- paid medical bills out of your own pocket for the personal injury, like a co-pay or deductible,
- are owed attorneys’ fees,
- are likely to continue to need medical care, or
- suffered a permanent partial disability.
In these cases, you and your workers’ compensation lawyer can still negotiate a settlement with the employer’s insurance carrier, even though you are 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 reached, the settlement can be paid in either a:
- lump sum settlement, or
- structured arrangement, with payouts spread over a period of time.
Hiring a workers’ compensation 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 you return to the job. However, if the doctor clears you to return to work, then you 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 your treating physician clears you for light-duty work or puts restrictions on your job duties, you can continue to receive workers’ comp benefits if the light-duty work pays less.
This happens most often when you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) but are not fully healed. If you have a permanent disability that keeps you from working your old job, you may continue to receive temporary total disability benefits even after returning to work. Employers may have to
- make reasonable accommodations if you return to the job with work restrictions, or
- find you a new job that you can perform.
Can my employer retaliate against me for the open claim?
No, retaliating against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim is unlawful. Based on the nature of the retaliation, you can generally sue your employer for:
- wrongful termination,
- back wages,
- job reinstatement, and
- increased compensation.
You also may be entitled to a penalty or increased workers’ compensation benefits.2
If you return to your job while your workers’ compensation case is still pending, you should not experience any ill-will from your employer. The employer is not involved in the negotiation of the claim – only you 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 you, it can amount to unlawful retaliation.
A workers’ compensation attorney from a reputable law firm can help you if you have been retaliated against for invoking your rights under workers’ compensation law.
- See, for example, California Labor Code 4654 LAB.
- See, for example, California Labor Code 132(a) LAB.