Can I Work While Receiving Workers' Comp?

Man working in wheelchair while on workers compensation

The North Carolina workers’ compensation system has two objectives: to provide benefits to support individuals who have been injured on the job and to ensure these individuals return to work if they can.

In most cases, a worker who obtains workers’ comp benefits fully recovers from his or her injury and returns to work, and the benefits end. But not all workers’ comp cases are that straightforward.

Sometimes, an injured worker who has not fully recovered is released by the doctor to return to work part-time, or the employer wants the worker to perform light duty work while he or she is still under a doctor’s care. This individual will continue to have medical bills, so he or she will want to continue to collect worker’s compensation benefits.

The question is: Can you collect workman’s comp and work at the same time? The answer is, yes, under certain circumstances you can work and collect workers’ comp benefits. In some cases, you may be required to return to work. In other cases, it gets complicated and you’ll need to know the rules, or you could lose benefits.

The Raleigh workers’ compensation lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A., have helped many injured workers obtain and maintain workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina. Each injured worker’s recovery is different. Many variables affect how long a worker will remain out of work and how long benefits may be paid. Below are some scenarios for working while on workers’ compensation.

Returning to ‘Light Duty’ Work on a Workers’ Comp Claim

At some point during an injured worker’s recovery, the treating doctor may declare that the worker is capable of returning to work with certain restrictions such as limits on physical activity. If your employer can arrange for you to do your normal job or another job within the doctor’s restrictions, then you must report to work or give up further benefits.

While you are on light duty, your employer may pay you less than your normal wages but this will entitle you to supplemental worker’s compensation checks.

If an employer cannot accommodate light duty restrictions, this could keep an employee from returning to work. However, some employers create light duty jobs to get their worker back on the job and reduce their workers’ comp insurance payout.

Another option for the worker is a trial return to work. Under this provision of N.C. workers’ comp law, a worker may return to work for up to nine months after which the worker and their doctor may determine whether the worker can, in fact, continue to work successfully. If the trial return to work is unsuccessful, full workers’ comp benefits resume immediately.

It is possible to oppose the employer-assigned treating doctor’s opinion and appeal to the Industrial Commission. An experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer can help you determine the right approach to returning to work or not, and advocate for you in the appeals process.

Changing Jobs During a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Sometimes a client asks us whether they can get a new job while on workers’ compensation. They would like to change employers, but still receive workers’ comp benefits. We counsel them that this is possible, but they need to remember that they are being paid benefits because they remain injured or have a work-related disease.

Before accepting a new job while receiving workers’ comp, discuss the situation with your treating physician. Make sure he or she will certify that the new job duties do not conflict with your ongoing disability, nor are they likely to make your condition worse.

You also need to notify the insurance company paying your workers’ comp benefits that you are changing jobs and tell them your new wages or salary.

Your workers’ comp benefit is tied to your injury and the resulting medical costs and wage losses. To an extent some of these benefits are “portable” should you change jobs. To protect your benefits, you should confer with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney before accepting a new job, regardless of the location.

Keeping a Second Job and Collecting Workers’ Compensation

The workers’ compensation wage loss benefit pays about two-thirds of your prior salary or wages. This is a significant reduction in take-home pay, which leads many injured workers to wonder how to make extra money while on workers’ comp.

If you are on workers’ comp disability because you are unable to work one job, holding a second job could damage your workers’ comp claim.

Even if the duties of your second job are fully compatible with your injuries, the workers’ comp insurer could use that second income to reduce your benefits. If the insurer sees the opportunity to argue that your second job demonstrates that you are not disabled, they’ll do that and seek to terminate your benefits.

If you already had a second job when you were injured, you should have reported it and its salary. The insurance company cannot take a credit if you are physically able to do the other job but not physically able to do the job you were injured in.

Legally, you are to report all of your income as part of a workers’ compensation claim. You could jeopardize your workers’ compensation by earning unreported income while collecting workers’ comp benefits.

We’ll Protect Your N.C. Workers’ Comp Claim

Workers’ compensation is a complex insurance program paid for by employers. It is easy to run afoul of the rules and jeopardize a claim. Workers’ comp insurers and employers will challenge or deny a claim if they find a reason to do so, especially if a claim has the potential to be costly.

The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A., can assist and advise you about your workers’ comp claim from start to finish. If you have questions about returning to work after suffering a workplace injury, please let us discuss your options. If your workers’ comp claim does not account for all of your income, we can advise you of the proper steps to take.

Contact Younce, Vtipil, & Baznik, P.A., in Raleigh today for a free consultation about your North Carolina workers’ compensation claim and how we can help you.