If you’ve been injured on the job, you may be entitled to benefits through your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation covers your medical expenses for workplace injuries and reimburses you for a portion of your average weekly wages while you are unable to work.
North Carolina’s workers’ compensation program offers valuable benefits to employees who develop job-related injuries or occupational diseases. However, some businesses and workers’ compensation insurance companies look for reasons to deny claims or discontinue workers’ comp benefits to injured workers. Here are some missteps to avoid while recovering from work-related injuries and dealing with the workers’ compensation system.
Don’t Disregard Doctor’s Orders
When you visit the workers’ comp doctor following your workplace injury, the doctor will provide a diagnosis and a treatment plan designed to help you recover from your workplace injuries. The doctor will outline what you should and shouldn’t do, with the goal of helping you return to work as soon as possible.
Failure to follow the doctor’s orders or keep follow-up appointments can jeopardize your workers’ comp benefits and give the employer or insurance company an excuse to terminate your benefits. Attend all follow-up appointments.
Sticking to your treatment regimen shows that you are serious about your recovery. Remember that the doctor’s instructions apply both at work and at home.
Downplaying or Exaggerating the Extent of Your Injuries
When you see the doctor, don’t minimize or exaggerate your injuries. Answer the doctor’s questions honestly. Describe your symptoms and the effects the injury has had on you to the best of your ability. The doctor’s documentation of your injuries plays a critical role in your eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits.
Be completely honest about your symptoms and include all details about what you’re experiencing due to your injuries. Stick to the facts and be consistent.
Missing Medical Appointments
If you miss scheduled medical appointments, the workers’ comp insurance administrator may interpret the missed appointments as a failure on your part to comply with your treatment plan. That can result in the suspension of your benefits, the denial of your workers’ comp claim, or the reduction of your total compensation.
It’s essential to attend all medical appointments. If a conflict arises, call the doctor immediately to reschedule. If a case manager has been assigned to arrange your medical appointments, inform them immediately. Try not to do this unless it is absolutely necessary. It’s best to treat your medical appointments as you would your job. Schedule other appointments around your doctor visits rather than the other way around.
Don’t Lie About Side Jobs
Workers’ compensation lost wages benefits are intended to replace the income you’d be earning if not for your injury. While you may be tempted to take side jobs in the meantime, this can jeopardize your workers’ comp claim by demonstrating your ability to work, even in a reduced capacity or in a role outside your primary field. Even worse, you may be committing a crime. If you work somewhere else during your case, make sure everyone knows about it.
Avoid Posting on Social Media
Social media platforms offer an outlet for sharing news and updates. You may be tempted to give your friends an update on how you are doing while recovering from an injury. This is precisely what not to do while on workers’ comp. If an insurer comes across social media posts suggesting you are feeling great or photos of you engaging in activities that should be difficult with your injuries, you could find yourself with suspended benefits or a rejected claim.
It’s a good idea to take a break from posting on social media during your recovery from a work-related injury. Even what you may consider an innocent post may be taken out of context and used against you.
Developing a Bad Relationship with Your Doctors
In North Carolina, unlike some other states, the employer usually has the right to direct your medical care if they have accepted your claim. N.C.G.S. 97-25. That means that the workers’ comp insurance company gets to pick the doctor they want. Their doctors may not order the diagnostic tests you think they should, or they may not refer you to a specialist as soon as you think they should. Their doctor may send you back to work before you think you are ready.
Regardless of what you think about their doctor’s care, it is in your best interest to always treat the doctor and the doctor’s staff with respect. It is OK to ask questions, but always do so in a respectful way. If you are rude to a doctor or their staff, that rudeness will often make its way into the doctor’s notes and damage your case. Also, a doctor is more likely to go out of their way to help you if you have treated them with respect.
Skipping Out on Light-Duty Work
As you make progress on your treatment and recovery, your doctor may clear you to return to work in a limited capacity. The doctor should provide clear instructions regarding your limitations. You may disagree with the doctor about those restrictions. You must take these instructions to your employer. If your employer offers you a job within those restrictions, you should usually accept it. If you believe you can’t perform the duties you’ve been cleared to do, discuss it with your doctor. If the doctor insists on your returning to work, go do your best. If you simply cannot do it, then return to the doctor and tell him/her what happened.
Failure to return to work when you’ve been cleared to do so can adversely affect your workers’ comp case.
Quitting Your Job While Receiving Workers’ Comp Benefits
Sometimes employers or coworkers make life difficult for injured workers who have returned to work. You may be tempted to quit your job in frustration. Quitting your job during your workers’ comp case will usually have negative effects on your claim. Your medical benefits will continue, but if you quit your job, your temporary disability benefits will likely be terminated. Your employer will argue that you decided to quit your job so the employer is no longer obligated to pay you income-replacement benefits.
It’s important to remain in your job if possible. Quitting your job could complicate your ability to obtain additional benefits, such as ongoing temporary disability benefits that may lead to a larger settlement in the end.
Don’t Settle Your Claim Without Consulting a Workers’ Comp Lawyer
Being offered a settlement can seem like an opportunity to receive a significant payout and be done with the process. However, accepting a quick settlement prevents you from pursuing additional money if you require further medical treatment or disability benefits. The initial settlement value may not come close to the full amount you need in the long run.
A knowledgeable North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer can help you understand the implications of accepting a settlement offer. A workers’ compensation attorney will make sure you understand the workers’ comp claims process and your legal rights. It’s in your best interest to enlist an experienced attorney as early in the workers’ compensation claims process as possible.
Get Help from Our Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
If you have questions about a work injury claim, the experienced and knowledgeable North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. can offer the personal attention and guidance you need. Our law firm has attorneys who are recognized by the North Carolina State Bar as board-certified specialists in North Carolina workers’ compensation law. We will do everything we can to help you understand your rights and the proper steps to take to pursue a workers’ compensation case.
Contact us today at 919-661-9000 for a free consultation about your workers’ compensation case and an explanation of your rights under North Carolina law. We look forward to learning about your situation and explaining how we’ll fight for the justice you deserve.