Aggressive "return to work" policies could leave injured workers unprotected

If you have been injured on the job, it is vitally important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. You also need to comply with your employer's policies regarding notification of injuries or treatment at one or more preferred providers for any follow-up care you might need during the course of your recovery. Your compliance is required for purposes of job security and to ensure that you can qualify for workers' compensation benefits.

When you are first injured, you might not even think about going back to work, instead being focused on your recovery. Your employer, however, likely has a policy in place that governs the way that injured employees return to active duty. While there are a few caveats, it is generally your responsibility to be familiar with the provisions of a "return to work" policy and to comply with its requirements.

What is a "return to work" policy?

Like the name implies, these policies are designed to set parameters to guide those who have been injured on the job through the process of recovering from their injuries, seeking any necessary treatment through their employer's preferred medical providers, requesting needed accommodations that will help them return to work and then resuming their normal duties following maximum medical improvement.

Small differences can mean a big deal

The state of Colorado recommends that all companies have clearly defined "return to work" policies and that they periodically remind employees about the stipulations of that policy. Having guidelines in place before workers get injured can make the transition back to work easier on the employee and can potentially bring about substantial savings for the employer in the form of unnecessary work comp benefits.

That being said, some employers are manipulating the spirit of inclusive "return to work" policies and instead drafting them in such a way that injured workers are being forced back to work - either in their former capacity or performing different tasks that utilize different skills - before their recovery is complete. Employees feel helpless to argue with their employers, particularly in times of economic uncertainty, because they fear losing their jobs altogether, but that doesn't mean that they have no recourse against being rushed back to work too soon.

Colorado's Office of Risk Management and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission both receive and process allegations and complaints that companies have violated fair employment practices. If you or a loved one has been forced back to work too soon following an on-the-job injury, consider speaking with an experienced workers' compensation attorney in your area. A skilled lawyer has the knowledge necessary to help you determine if your employer is acting in violation of state and federal labor laws.