Under the Florida Workers Compensation Law, benefits are paid based upon disability. What is disability? Disability means an “incapacity because of the injury to earn in the same or any other employment the wages which the employer is receiving at the time of the injury”. In other words, you need to show that you can no longer earn the same wages that you were making at the time of the injury. Also, you need to show a causal connection between your loss of wages and the injury. To do this, you need your doctor to state that your injury is the reason for your loss of earnings. Without this medical evidence, your workers’ compensation claim will go nowhere.
Loss of Wages
Once you are unable to earn the same amount you were earning due to a workplace injury or on the job injury; you may be entitled to temporary wage loss benefits. If your doctor indicates that you can work with restrictions or limitations, and/or can do light duty work, then you should be paid by the employer or its workers’ compensation insurance carrier. These lost wage benefits are temporary in nature because it is expected that at some point you will be able to return to full-duty work without restrictions, or you will reach maximum medical improvement.
Maximum medical improvement means that an injured worker is not expected to improve or further recover from the injury. In other words, the doctor finds that there is nothing further he or she can do for you medically to help in your recovery. This is a critical point in a workers’ compensation claim because temporary disability or lost wage benefits will stop.
Return to Work after a work-related injury
Once you prove that you suffered a work-related injury and you have lost wages due to your disability from the workplace injury; the workers’ compensation carrier should issue you weekly checks for lost wage benefits starting 14 days after your doctor indicates your disability status. These temporary partial disability benefits are meant to compensate you while you are recovering and can no longer work in the same capacity that you were working at the time of the accident. That is why they are temporary in nature.
Light Duty Job Offer
Your employer, through its carrier, must pay you lost wage benefits unless they show that you refused a light-duty job offer. In other words, the employer must offer you suitable employment that fits within the work restrictions that your doctor indicated. For example, if you worked in construction that required you to do heavy lifting, bending, pulling, and pushing and your doctor indicated that you could only lift 10 pounds and could not do any pushing, pulling, or bending, then you would not be expected to return to work doing the same job you were doing before. If your employer offered you the same job back you would not be required to accept it, and could still collect your weekly lost wage checks from the carrier. However, if your employer offered you a desk job answering phones, and you refused it; then that would be a problem. Your employer would likely stop paying your weekly worker’s compensation checks.
Refusal of Job offer Must Be Justified
Remember, your refusal of a job offer must be justified. You must be able to argue that the job offered was not within your restrictions or some other justifiable reason for not accepting it. The employer can always argue that you unreasonably refused the job offer and that you are voluntarily limiting your income in an effort to cut off your workers’ compensation checks.
Resignation from Employment
A sales associate who suffered several injuries after a slip and fall was offered light duty work answering phones but then resigned from this light duty job just before going into surgery in order to apply for social security disability benefits. He was told that he would not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits following surgery. The Judge found that his resignation from the light-duty position was justifiable and his workers’ compensation checks continued.
However, where an injured worker resigned in order to start her own business; this was not a justifiable reason for resignation. Workers’ compensation benefits stopped because she desired to start her own store which caused her to retire and not her back injury.
If an injured worker leaves his or her employment based upon physical difficulties in performing the job because of the workplace injury then this is not voluntary limitation of income. That worker would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, assuming no light duty job was offered.
Termination from Employment
Also, if an injured worker is terminated for misconduct, then no temporary partial disability benefits will be payable following such termination. Notably, if an injured worker is terminated from employment for reasons other than misconduct, then the period of time following such termination, while the employee was out of work, would not constitute a period of refusal of employment.
There used to be a requirement under the workers’ compensation law that injured workers must search for work in order to prove that the workplace injury was causing their lost income. That is no longer the case. But, in certain circumstances, an injured worker is required to perform a job search.
If the worker is able to return to work after the injury but then stops working for unrelated reasons, a job search may be required to re-establish a causal relation between the loss of earnings and workplace injury. The burden to demonstrate this causal connection is always on the injured worker.
As demonstrated in this article, an injured worker must establish a causal relationship between a workplace injury and disability in order to obtain benefits. The employer may offer you a job within your restrictions. Your refusal to accept or actions taken in response to a job offer may make or break your claim for lost wage benefits. It is critical to know the circumstances that you are presented with and to consider the consequence of your actions. Having an expert in Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law guide you so that you make the right choices and take the right actions will ensure that you maximize your benefits under the law. If you have suffered a work-related injury, contact us at the LaBovick Law Group to see what benefits you may be entitled to. We provide free consultations where we will review the facts of your case to determine the right course for you. Call us today at (561) 625-8400 for your free evaluation.