My Doctor Gave Me a Full Duty Release. Now What?
So, your doctor has given you a full duty release. Is this good news or bad news?
It depends on several factors.
What should be the biggest determining factor is the extent of your injury.
Generally, if you have been injured at work, you will need some time off to recover.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “There were 1,176,340 nonfatal injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work in 2020, 32.4 percent higher than in 2019. […] In 2020, the median number of days away from work in all private industry occupations was 12 days, an increase from 8 days in 2019.”
When it comes to workers’ compensation for workplace injuries, when you return to work and how much work you do comes down to your doctor’s orders.
Your doctor will determine if you can work and how much work you can do.
If your doctor grants you a full duty release, it means you are released to work as if you are no longer suffering from your workplace injury.
But what if your doctor grants a full duty release and you’re not quite well enough to return to your previous speed and intensity?
It’s a question that gets brought up again and again. So let’s dive into the ins and outs of a full duty release.
What Is the Difference between Full Duty Release and Light Duty Release?
Full duty release means that the doctor thinks you’re capable of unrestricted work with no work limitations.
In contrast, light duty release (also known as modified duty release) is when a doctor claims you can return to work, but with some restrictions.
For example, if you suffer a back injury, your doctor may release you to light duty work but restrict your ability to lift heavy objects.
What Happens After I’m Given a Full Duty Release?
With a full duty release, you can expect your workers’ compensation benefits to come to an end – that is, your weekly checks. You are still entitled to ongoing medical benefits.
If you are receiving weekly benefits, they will stop within 10 days of the full duty release, assuming the insurance adjuster files the necessary documentation immediately upon the full duty release. Essentially, the insurance company has to give you 10 days’ notice of the suspension of your weekly benefits by filing a WC-2 Form along with a copy of the doctor’s full duty release.
If you are not receiving workers’ compensation checks, nothing really changes. You can go back to work if you feel up to it, but always speak with your attorney FIRST before actually deciding whether to present yourself back at work.
What Happens After I’m Given a Light Duty Release?
A key difference between a full duty release and a light duty release is that workers’ compensation checks will continue IF your employer is unable to provide you with employment under your restrictions.
With a light duty release, it means the doctor has approved your return to work with some restrictions.
Until your doctor grants a full duty release OR your employer comes up with suitable light duty work, you should continue receiving workers’ compensation checks.
In some cases, insurers may also have employees do vocational rehabilitation, which helps ease the employee back into the workforce but also lessens the amount of workers’ compensation benefits.
According to the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation Employee Handbook, “If you are given a light-duty release and a light-duty job is available, your employer will expect you to return to work. The Workers’ Compensation Statute provides for a 15-working-day ‘grace period.’ This allows an employee to attempt to perform a light-duty job without fear of losing benefits if they are unable to perform the job duties.”
These 15 days are important, so speak to your lawyer first before you go back to work.
What Should I Do If I’m Given a Full Duty Release Too Soon?
Now, back to the main question: What happens if a doctor grants a full duty release when you don’t feel ready?
What if you are still in pain or experiencing symptoms?
As much as we’d like to tell you that this doesn’t happen because doctors have your well-being in mind, that isn’t always the case.
In particular, when you are dealing with workers’ compensation, a good number of doctors are more focused on making insurance companies and employers happy than they are on taking care of their patients.
Are you experiencing extreme pain in your arm and wrist? Full duty release! You can go back to work like usual on the assembly line!
This happens because employers want their employees to work – not stay at home. Plus, workers’ compensation insurance companies want employees to have a full duty release because that means they get to stop paying benefits.
And guess who benefits because of these two needs? Doctors!
When you are injured on the job, you are required to see one of the physicians posted on the panel of physicians. Some of those doctors on the list are there because they are more appealing to employers and insurance companies.
That’s why it is so important to choose your own doctor from the posted list instead of going to the doctor your employer suggests.
Let’s say your doctor has granted a full duty release, and you don’t feel healthy and well.
You have some options.
First, make sure your doctor is completely aware of what is required at your job, so he or she understands what a full duty release means. Then, explain why you don’t think you can perform certain tasks in light of how you currently feel.
If you go back to work and experience an increase in your symptoms, you can then go back to your treating doctor to let them know and request that you be put back on light duty or taken completely out of work.
You can also request a second opinion or ask for an Independent Medical Examination.
What Are the Risks of Going Back to Full Duty Work Too Soon?
The biggest risk for going back to full duty work too soon is the possibility of re-injuring yourself or making injuries worse.
If you haven’t healed completely, it is more likely you will re-injure the already hurt area or overcompensate with another body part and injure it as well.
It will wind up frustrating you and costing your employer even more money if either happens.
Another risk is being fired or let go if you return to work before you are fully capable of working.
In “at-will” employment states, such as Georgia, you can be fired at any time for any reason, except for being a member of a class protected from employment discrimination.
You can be fired or laid off if you have a pending workers’ compensation claim while you are on workers’ compensation or as soon as you are granted full duty release.
In Georgia, you can be fired for any legal reason, even during the workers’ compensation process.
For instance, if you have a back injury that prevents you from working, and your employer cannot find any light duty work, you may be let go.
Additionally, your employer may fire you as soon as the doctor grants a full duty release as long as they have a reason outside of your filing for workers’ compensation (such as “too many missed days”).
Why Do I Need a Workers’ Compensation Attorney?
If your doctor has suggested you are ready for full duty release and you don’t feel ready, you need to contact an attorney.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will help you navigate second opinions, report ongoing injury symptoms, and schedule an independent medical exam.
Additionally, if your employer fires you when you return to work after being granted full duty release, an attorney will help you fight for the benefits you deserve.
Workers’ compensation attorneys know the ways unscrupulous employers, insurance companies, and doctors work together to push employees back to work too quickly.
We at DeMedeiros Injury Law have been in the business long enough to know which doctors are most interested in helping their patients and those who are more interested in their paychecks.
This is why it’s important to start working with a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as you are injured on the job.
No matter what, when your work status changes, always talk to your attorney about whether you need to go back to work or not.
Never go back to work without your attorney’s approval!
If you’ve been injured on the job, contact us today for a free, no-strings-attached consultation.
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