With the year wrapping up, many workers are taking time off to spend with friends and families. But workers who have been injured on the job just prior to the holidays may be planning on returning to work just after the New Year. Many plan on convalescing this way, returning to their original duties or to transitional duties after the holidays end. Yet the return to work can be more complicated than packing a lunch, punching the time clock, and getting back to the grind.
New laws, including A.B. 2181, were passed this year addressing worker’s rights with regard to occupational injuries. The bill requires that the administrative director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), in consultation with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation develop and publish guidelines for employees and employers that cover the “return to work” process. Such a requirement is significant because discrimination can occur when an employee returns to work following an industrial illness or injury. For that reason, protections against discrimination is available for workers, whether they have taken time off for their own injury or under the Family Medical Leave Act. Once the guidelines are published, employers will have to provide the information to workers on disability. However, employers have a duty not to discriminate against workers even now, before those guidelines are published and made available to workers.
Both the Occupational and Health Safety and Human Rights Acts create a duty – employers must attempt to accommodate an injured employee. If possible, transitional work should be made available that is consistent with the worker’s abilities and attempts to restore the worker’s pre-injury earnings. Transitional work, however, is not always available. But a well conceived “return to work” program can be a proactive way for employers to help injured workers stay at work or return as soon as physically possible. For many, the end of the holidays and the current economic crisis may make the call back to work all the more insistent. However, if you have sustained an on-the-job injury and you feel that you are being pressured back to work before you are ready, you may wish to speak to an attorney. You may also wish to speak to an attorney if you feel pressure not to return to work when you do feel ready or have been cleared by a medical doctor.