Should I Look For Work On Workers Compensation?

There appears to be a common misconception regarding an injured worker’s duties while they are out of work and collecting weekly workers’ compensation benefits.  Can I look for work?  Do I have to look for work?  These are regular questions posed by injured workers.  As with most things in the workers’ compensation arena, the answers to these questions are far from simple.

As a general rule, an injured worker who is collecting weekly workers’ compensation benefits has an obligation to make a reasonable effort to locate suitable employment.  Of course, this can only be done if the treating physician has released the worker to return to work either with or without some type of work restrictions, e.g., no lifting greater than 20 pounds or no standing greater than 15 minutes per hour.  In the event that the doctor indicates that the worker should remain out of work completely then there is no need for the worker to look for work while this restriction remains in place.  It is, however, the times when the doctor releases the injured worker to “light duty” work when an injured worker’s obligation to make a reasonable effort to look for work becomes much less clear.

In evaluating what type of effort would be considered reasonable, an injured worker must consider his current employment status with his employer.  If he is still considered an employee following the accident, then it is reasonable for the worker to approach his employer to see if there is any light duty work available.  In North Carolina, the Workers’ Compensation Act sets out a special requirement that any pre-maximum medical improvement light duty job offer must be approved by the treating physician.   (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(22))  Many times insurance adjusters or employers will bypass this requirement.  In such instances, retaining an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help ensure that the appropriate steps are followed before returning to light duty work for the employer.

When an injured worker no longer is considered to be an employee of the employer for which he was working at the time of his injury, he should explore employment opportunities with other employers.  Depending on how limiting his light duty work restrictions are, an injured worker may believe that looking for work is impractical.  While this may be true in some cases, an injured worker should document any research he completed in reaching this determination.  If looking for light duty work for other employers is not impractical, then an injured worker should maintain a Job Search Log to include the date of the application, name of the prospective employer, job title and rate of pay.

In summary, an injured workers’ obligation to look for work should be governed by what is reasonable under the circumstances.  Seeking the advice and counsel of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in these situations can provide clarity to the injured worker and ensure that his entitlement to continued weekly workers’ compensation benefits is not jeopardized.  If you have a question regarding your obligation to look for work while collecting weekly workers’ compensation benefits, Campbell & Associates is here to help.

Written by Brad Smith, Workers Compensation Attorney, Department Head, Campbell & Associates, Attorneys at Law