Being sent back to work with “no restrictions” can actually make it harder for injured workers to return to work and retain jobs
Recently I read medical records in two separate cases where doctors wrote they were doing my client’s favors by releasing them to work without restrictions when there was evidence of permanent damage or impairment from the injury.
The thought is that a worker with no restrictions will have an easier time returning to work. But in my experience, an inaccurate opinion that a worker has no restrictions makes it harder for an employee to return to work and retain work after an injury.
Vocational rehabilitation and return to work – In Nebraska, a worker who is unable to return back to work at a similar rate of pay because of an injury can be eligible for vocational rehabilitation benefits. Sometimes this means job placement, other times it can be mean re-training or further education. This also means being paid temporary total disability while being involved in a program.
An inaccurate statement from a doctor stating an employee has “no restrictions” makes it harder for an employee to obtain vocational rehabilitation. Nebraska law allows for awards of vocational rehabilitation based on an injured workers’ testimony. But that requires the delay and uncertainty of a hearing.
Sometimes and an employee is released back to work with impairment but no restrictions. The impairment entitles an employee to permanent disability and can be a basis for the Nebraska workers’ compensation court can appoint a counselor for vocational rehabilitation services. But without restrictions a counselor may have difficulty placing an employee in a job or developing a plan.
The bottom line is, if an employee has permanent restrictions given by a doctor, then vocational rehabilitation can start faster and counselors have a much easier time in developing job placement or retraining programs.
No restrictions. No reasonable accommodations under the ADA? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act an employee can ask for a reasonable accommodation based on a disability. An employee with a medical note that they have no restrictions will find it difficult to impossible to find an employer who will try to reasonably accommodate them.
While in theory, employees have some ability to testify to the extent of their own disability under the ADA, that testimony usually carries less weight in an ADA case than it does in a Nebraska workers’ compensation case. But even if an employee can succeed in an ADA case, that means an employer has taken some adverse action against them. Usually, but not always, this means they were fired. This also usually means an employee waits a year at shortest for an outcome.
But an employee can short-circuit this hassle if they have reasonably accurate work restrictions from an MD.
Getting fired for false representation of your injury? I think doctors who give their patients inaccurate work releases without restrictions could in some circumstances be setting up their clients for being fired. Employers can ask about prior injuries post-hire if it is job-related. An employee who is mislead into believing they have “no restrictions” may believe they have no restrictions. A doctor who purposefully releases someone back to work with no restrictions may also be re-enforce the falsehood that no one will hire a worker with restrictions.
So what could happen? The employee is unable to tolerate the job and maybe asks for an accommodation. Then it comes out the person had a prior injury. Lying on an employment application is a good way for an employee to get fired.
Nebraska law also makes it harder for employees who misrepresent their physical condition during the hiring process to collect workers’ compensation benefits.
No, having “no restrictions” won’t ruin your workers compensation case.
Nebraska workers’ compensation law allows employees to testify to the extent of their disability or injury so long as the injury is found to be work-related. But evidence that a doctor believes an employee has “no restrictions” gives employers a plausible excuse to delay benefit payments.
Lawyers for injured workers can often times “fix” a “no restrictions” report with results from a Functional Capacity Evaluation or FCE. Fortunately many doctors will order these tests, but not every doctor does. But even if the tests are ordered, an employee or their attorney can get stuck with the cost of the examination.