When you are dealing with a work-related injury or illness, healing is your most important job – but it’s also good to begin thinking about and planning for your return to work. Many people who receive workers’ compensation benefits do return to work, for lots of good reasons:
- A quick return to an active lifestyle may help you get better faster.
- Returning to work can benefit your overall and long-term compensation, as you won’t miss out on raises, promotions and seniority status.
Not every injured worker’s return-to-work path is the same.
Most injured workers fully heal and return to their same job.
The overwhelming majority of injured workers fully heal from their work-related injury or illness and return to their same job, as soon as their medical provider has cleared them to do so.
If this sounds like your situation, your return-to-work process is very straightforward. Simply:
- notify your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer when your medical provider says you are cleared to return to your job, and
- coordinate your return date and other details with your employer.
Some may have medical restrictions or other situations that affect their return to work.
Some injured workers may not be able to return to their exact same job. They may require alternate or light duties at work as they continue to heal or to accommodate new medical restrictions. Some injured workers need training and assistance to find a different job altogether.
If your return-to-work situation is a bit more complex like the examples above, there are many resources to help you.
Please read on for important information and guidance to assist you as you heal and work toward getting back to work.
It’s important to note that many employers have programs to help you return to work. Check with your Human Resources department to learn about any return-to-work (RTW) or stay-at-work (SAW) programs or policies at your workplace.
Your Return-to-Work Team
Returning to work is often a team effort. Your return-to-work team includes:
Your health care provider, who will clear you to return to work. Sometimes you’re cleared with restrictions on the activities you can do, such as lifting, bending, standing, or sitting, which can limit your job duties. Be sure to tell your employer about any restrictions!
Your employer, which may provide transitional work duties, sometimes known as light duty, based on your medical provider’s assessment and what you’ve been cleared to do. Speak with your employer about any work that may be available while you heal.
“Light duty” generally refers to work that is less physically or mentally demanding than your regular job duties.
Your legal representative, if you have one. Some injured workers choose to have legal representation, but it is not required. If you have an attorney or legal representative for your workers’ compensation claim, keep them informed of any return-to-work discussions.
Your union representative, if applicable. If you are a member of a labor union, you should find out what resources may be available from your union to help you return to work or stay at work.
Stay closely connected with everyone on your return-to-work team to get back to work sooner.
Important Return-to-Work Guidance
Below is important information to know about returning to work after (or while) receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
- If you return to work and your injury or illness causes you to earn less than before, you may be eligible for certain benefits:
- You may be entitled to “reduced earnings” benefits if you return to work at a lower pay rate because your disability prevents you from working at your pre-injury level. Reduced earnings benefits pay up to two-thirds of the difference of your wages before and after your work injury.
- If you return to work but are occasionally absent due to your work-related injury (whether treating ongoing or related issues), you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for the time you are out. This is called intermittent lost time. You must have medical evidence supporting your claim that an absence is due to your work-related injury. Please keep careful records of your lost time and pay stubs.
Medical care for your injury is a lifetime benefit. Unless you’ve signed a waiver as part of a settlement (Section 32 waiver agreement), medical care for your work injury or illness is a lifetime benefit, so you’re eligible for medical treatment even after you return to work. You can also ask to be reimbursed for travel costs to and from medical treatment and for payments you made for related medical expenses such as prescriptions. (Use Form C-257).
A Section 32 Waiver Agreement is a negotiated settlement between you and the insurer. It ends your right to ongoing and future benefits in exchange for a lump sum payment or annuity.
- Partially disabled workers who are not working may have to show “labor market attachment” to continue receiving workers’ compensation benefits. See the Labor Market Attachment page for additional details.
- Employers are not required to hold positions. Workers’ Compensation Law does not require your employer to keep your job open for you. However, most employers do take injured workers back. Stay connected with your employer about your job status.
- FMLA may hold your job for you. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires some employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to an employee who cannot work because of a serious health condition. This can preserve your job status while you’re healing. Contact the U.S. Department of Labor for more information.
- Reasonable accommodations may be available. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to help you do your job if you’re disabled. You should contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you think you were unfairly denied a job because of a disability. New York State’s Human Rights Law, which covers employers with four or more employees, also prohibits disability discrimination.
Discrimination is always prohibited. Employers cannot discriminate against you because you filed a workers’ compensation claim. They cannot ask you if you’ve ever filed one, nor can they discriminate against you if you are disabled.
If you think you were fired, harassed or subject to discrimination because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, contact the Workers’ Compensation Board Office nearest you and ask about filing a discrimination claim (Form DC-120). You must file the complaint no later than two years after the date the action took place.
As described above, there are protections against discrimination at both the federal and state levels through US EEOC and New York State’s Human Rights Law.
|Stay in contact with your employer about options for returning to work|
|Work with your health care provider to get clearance to work|
|Communicate your medical restrictions to your employer for duty options within your limitations|
|If you are disabled, you may request a reasonable accommodation from your employer so you can get back to work|
|If you return to work at lower pay due to your work-related injury, you can receive benefits to make up for the difference|
|Medical care for your work-related injury is a lifetime benefit|
|If you are able to work but cannot return to your job, you must search for work within your restrictions|
|Employers are not required to hold your job. Stay in contact with your employer about your job status|
|You may be entitled to unpaid leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)|
|Discrimination is always prohibited!|
The Board has compiled a webpage of guidance and information related to COVID-19, including an FAQ and other materials for injured workers. See: WCB Information Related to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) for the latest updates.
For additional resources, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for return-to-work guidance related to COVID-19 and the US Department of Labor’s COVID-19 resources page.
Labor Market Attachment
If you are temporarily partially disabled and stopped working or retired after your accident, you are expected to seek work within your restrictions. The employer or carrier may ask you to show reasonable efforts of job searches before a workers’ compensation judge. For more information, visit the Labor Market Attachment page.
Board Vocational Services
A work-related accident or illness can be challenging, but there are resources to assist you. The Board’s vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) may help you in several ways:
- Help search and apply for jobs
- Coordinate job/vocational training
- Offer referrals to other vocational support services
- Provide general assistance to help you return to work
See our fact sheet: Vocational rehabilitation: Helping workers get back to work.
Board Social Services
You and your family may feel overwhelmed following a work-related injury or illness. As the injured worker, you also face the pain and difficulty of the disability itself. The Board’s Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSWs) can find resources to help ease these difficulties. Contact the Board at (877) 632-4996 and ask for social work assistance.
Social workers may also partner with the Board’s VRCs to help you to return to your job. They’ll look at the financial and emotional barriers that may be delaying a successful return to work and help remove them. Here are some of the services social workers can provide to assist you in returning to work:
- Assistance with claim issues, including postponing actions against claim
- Local social services referrals, including SNAP benefits, soup kitchens, and food pantries
- Housing assistance, including emergency shelter, landlord negotiations, drop-in shelters
- Budget planning
Advocate for Injured Workers
The Office of the Advocate for Injured Workers connects with workers who face challenges claiming workers’ compensation payments or medical benefits. The Advocate’s office also provides education to workers across the State about their rights in the workers’ compensation system and the benefits of returning to work and other best practices.
For information or assistance, email email@example.com or call (877) 632-4996.
Other Career Resources
Two New York State agencies help disabled workers who are trying to return to work:
- The NYS Department of Labor operates the JobZone, an online career services website where you can get help with your resume and cover letters, search job and apprentice opportunities, and access a wealth of resources to support your job search.
- The NYS Department of Labor also operates One Stop Centers, where workforce professionals help you find a job. For the office nearest you, call (888) 4NYSDOL (469-7365).
- The NYS Department of Education’s ACCES-VR (Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation) is another valuable resource. To find the office nearest you, call (800) 222-JOBS (5627).
Your employer and/or insurer may also provide referrals for vocational rehabilitation assistance. Please contact them for more information.
If you are ready, willing, and able to return work, but your job is no longer open with your employer, you may be able to collect Unemployment Insurance. Contact the New York State Department of Labor to find out more about Unemployment Insurance benefits at (888) 209-8124.
Return-to-Work: Key Terms
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that bans discrimination against qualified job seekers with disabilities. It applies to employers of 15 or more people.
- See Permanent Partial Disability.
- Intermittent Lost Time
- If you go back to work, but are absent sometimes due to your work injury, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for the times you are absent. Please keep track of your earnings. You may also need medical reports to support your lost time claim.
- Labor Market Attachment
If you are temporarily partially disabled and stopped working or retired after your accident, you are expected to seek work with your restrictions. For more information visit the Labor Market Attachment page.
It is your responsibility to prove to the Board and the insurer that you are actively and diligently seeking work within your restrictions. The records you keep of your job search efforts will be considered evidence in your claim for benefits. If you are represented by an attorney or licensed representative, you should always show your job search records to your representative before sending them to the Board. Use Form C-258 or Form C-258.1 to keep track of your job search efforts.
- Loss of Wage-Earning Capacity
- The decrease to your ability to earn a full income due to a work-related disability. If you have a permanent partial disability and have reached maximum medical improvement, your disability may be classified by a Board judge. The judge will review both medical evidence of impairment and other evidence that may have caused a decrease in your ability to earn a full income.
- Maximum Medical Improvement
Is a medical opinion from your provider regarding your condition that
- you recovered from the work-related injury to the greatest extent that is expected, and
- no further change is expected. If you’re found to have reached maximum medical improvement and your injury or condition is permanent, you may be entitled to a schedule loss of use award or a finding by a Board judge that you have permanent partial disability.
- Partial Disability
- Any type of disability in which you are unable to perform at your full physical capacity.
- Permanent Partial Disability
- If you have reached maximum medical improvement and have medical evidence of a permanent partial disability, you may not have to continue to show attachment to the labor market if, at the time you are classified, you can prove that you are attached to the labor market. A Board judge classifies your case when the judge finds that you have a permanent partial disability and determines your loss of wage-earning capacity.
- Permanent Total Disability
- A total disability means you are unable to work. If you are permanently totally disabled, you do not have to show attachment to the labor market.
- Reasonable Accommodation
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines reasonable accommodation as a requirement for some employers to change the way things are usually done to allow disabled workers to apply for a job or perform a job. Qualified applicants or employees can ask the employer to change the work environment and to allow the disabled employee to apply for a job or perform the essential functions of the position. This allows the disabled worker to enjoy the equal benefits and privileges of employment.
- Reduced Earnings
- If you go back to work and your new pay rate is lower because of your disability, you could get a benefit to make up for your decreased wages. It depends on factors such as your pay prior to your injury and your job functions.
- Schedule Loss of Use
- An additional cash payment for injured workers with a permanent functional impairment to an extremity, hearing loss or vision loss. For additional information, visit the Schedule Loss Use Award page on our website.
- Section 32 Waiver Agreement
- A Section 32 Waiver Agreement is a negotiated settlement between you and the insurer. It ends your right to ongoing and future benefits in exchange for a lump sum payment or an annuity today. It is a serious decision that you must consider carefully before making the agreement.
- Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc Rehab)
- A process that allows a person with a functional, psychological, developmental, cognitive, and emotional disability or impairment to overcome barriers to accessing, maintaining, or returning to employment.
- Voluntary Withdrawal from the Labor Market
- If you have not returned to work and/or have stopped searching for work while receiving workers’ compensation benefits, you may be considered to have voluntarily withdrawn from the labor market. Your benefits may stop. Your benefits may resume if you show reattachment to the labor market. (See the Labor Market Attachment page).
Frequently Asked Questions
When I go back to work, can I still claim workers’ compensation for the time when I was hurt and could not work?
You have up to two years after your workplace injury or illness to file a workers’ compensation claim. This is true even if you have already returned to work. If you lost more than 7 days from work, you may be entitled to an award for lost time.
Does my employer have to keep my job for me while I am out due to my workplace injury?
The Workers’ Compensation Law does not require your employer to keep your job open for you. Most employers do take injured workers back. Keep regular contact with your employer about your job status.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires most employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a twelve-month period to an eligible employee who cannot work because of a serious health condition. Contact the U.S. Department of Labor for more information.
Now that I can work, can I collect Unemployment Insurance?
If you are ready, willing, and able to work, but your job is no longer open with your employer, you may be able to collect Unemployment Insurance. Contact the New York State Department of Labor to find out more about Unemployment Insurance benefits at (888) 209-8124. Also visit your local NYS Department of Labor One-Stop Career Center for information on employment searches.
Can my employer fire me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
No. If you think you were fired, harassed or subject to discrimination because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, contact the Workers’ Compensation Board Office nearest you and ask about filing a discrimination claim (Form DC-120). You must file the complaint no later than two years after the date the action took place. New York State’s Human Rights Law, which covers employers with four or more employees, also prohibits disability discrimination.
Can a new employer refuse to give me a job because I have a workers’ compensation case?
No. Employers are not allowed to ask you if you have a workers’ compensation claim. They cannot deny you a job for filing a past claim, either. The Workers’ Compensation Board cannot share any information about your workers’ compensation case with another employer. If you believe you were discriminated against due to your claim, please contact the NYS Division of Human Rights for guidance.
Can an employer deny me a job because I have a disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bans discrimination against qualified job seekers with disabilities. If you are disabled, your employer may even need to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to help you do your job. You should contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you think that you were unfairly denied a job because of a disability. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees. New York State’s Human Rights Law also prohibits disability discrimination and covers employers with four (4) or more employees. You can call them at (888) 392-3644.
Why is labor market attachment required?
To continue to receive benefits, a partially disabled injured worker is required to show labor market attachment. The employer or insurance company can ask you about what you have done to remain attached to the labor market. If at any point you fail to make reasonable efforts to find gainful work within the restrictions of your partial disability, you can be considered to have voluntarily withdrawn from the labor market. That would end your payments, until you show you are looking for work within your medical restrictions. See the Labor Market Attachment page for more information.
Can I still get medical treatment for my work-related injury after I return to work?
Yes. Medical care for your work injury or illness is a lifetime benefit, so you’re eligible for medical treatment even after you return to work. You can also ask to be reimbursed for travel costs to and from treatment and payments you may have made for causally related medical expenses such as prescriptions. (Use Form C-257.)
Should I let anyone know when I return to work?
Yes. You or your attorney/representative should tell the Workers’ Compensation Board and the insurer that is paying your benefits when you return to work. Also, let the Board and insurer know whenever you have a decrease or increase in hours worked or wages paid.
If I am unable to do my usual type of work because of my injury, does the Workers’ Compensation Board offer help in finding work or training for persons with disabilities?
Yes. Contact the Workers’ Compensation Board District Office near you and ask to speak with our vocational rehabilitation counselors or social workers for more information.
This form is used when you want to share your personal workers’ compensation records with an external source, such as a job counselor, trainer, or other Third-Party.
These forms can be used to track your job search efforts when you need to demonstrate Labor Market Attachment: