What to do when your treating doctor says you can work or return to work but you know or think you can’t, or you simply disagree? This is a good question and one we receive countless time from injured workers.
Your doctor says you can return to work but you think you can’t – what now?
An injured worker asks something along the lines of:
I had a spinal fusion approximately 4 and a half months ago my treating doctor/specialist released me back to work without any restrictions… but I don’t think I am ready . What do I do?
This is a good question indeed.
Nobody knows your body better than you (the injured worker) do. At the same time though, under the workers compensation law, generally speaking, weekly payments are only owed if you have a treating doctor stating that you can not return to work in any capacity, or can only work a limited number of hours, with restrictions (i.e. in Vic 15 hrs/week).
To us, injured veterans, possibly the best way to solve a tricky problem like this is to establish a good relationship with your treating doctor from the beginning. Some doctors will release injured workers back to work as soon as they can because the injured worker [or most often, the workcover insurer (case manager!)] just bugs them. So a nice thank you card or a little pressie now and then can go a long way – hey we are not talking bribing!). The point is that having a great relationship with your treating doctor(s) can go a long way.
If you really, really feel as though your treating doctor is wrong, rest assured that we believe you! Many of us have been prematurely released to work, only to suffer exacerbation and even additional injuries. As we stated above, you know your body best. If your doctor can’t be convinced, you’re, indeed, in a tough spot.
Value your relationship with your treating doctor(s) from the very beginning. Your goal is that you want your doctor to trust you and believe you and genuinely want to help you. So being a good “patient” is a good start, and this includes being honest at all times about how you’re feeling and how you were injured. Keep your doctor posted if your pain or condition changes. If your doctor(s) don’t feel you are being honest, they might not believe you when you say you are still in pain.
Your doctor may have seen a few (rare) ‘injured’ workers in the past who have tried to take advantage of workcover system. Let them know that you are definitely not one of them, that you want to return to work but that you are worried that it’s not time (as long as this is the truth, of course).
If you’ve already gotten to the point where you have a disagreement with your doctor about your readiness to return to work, make sure to let them know that you disagree. You might be able to get your doctor to agree for example to a few weeks of light duty work as a trial run. Maybe there is some rehabilitation you can do first to get you ready to go back .
Apart from that, please be sure to express your return to work concerns to your doctor. If your doctor is releasing you back to full duty work then perhaps you can ask to do a trial run of a few weeks on light duty (or modified duty) to see how you go. Perhaps starting off with a few hours a day and gradually increasing your hours as to make sure you can cope, get re-acquainted with your work environment and build up stamina. Maybe you can ask to undertake a work hardening program, which is a rehabilitative process – paid by the insurer- designed to condition (harden) you to get back to work. It’s almost like a kind of “spring training” (used in baseball) of sorts.
You can (and should if you are concerned) also ask your treating doctor about what you should do if you feel pain while working and what the next steps would be. That way you also convey your anxiety/concerns you may have and acknowledge that you fear you may not be (quite) ready. Your doctor can then help formulate a plan should you not be able to cope with the initial return to work program/full duty work.
Perhaps the most important thing is that you don’t want to do is act like someone who thinks workcover is a “free holiday’ and that you’ll never be able to get back to your old duties. Let your treating doctor(s) clearly know that you want to work, that you want to return to (some sort of) work, but that you are scared (assuming that’s the truth of course). If you act like you’ll never get back to your job (or something suitable) and then the workcover insurance company catches you doing any meaningful activity, you are -yep-dead in the water and will hurt your workcover case.
For all injured sods who have done all of this, we just tell them the truth: you have to try working. Sometimes it goes way better than you expect. Other times you may get re-injured within half an hour. But while you know your body better than anyone else, your doctor (or even surgeon) often knows the kind of injury you suffer better than you do. So you do have to (try) trust your doctor(s) judgment …. or sit at home and not be paid!
In the end, you might just have to go back to work and give it a try. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised, or maybe you’ll get re-injured. But if you don’t try, your only option is to sit at home and not get paid. We wish we could give good news all the time, but our injured motto is to be honest about what you’re facing and then help you figure out how to make it better….This is the kind of answer that often sucks to deliver, but we don’t ever tell injured workers what they want to hear- we (seriously injured workers) tell the truth and the reality is that if your doctor isn’t in your corner (on your side) then there isn’t much that can be done for you!
Furthermore should your case end up in Court, a judge or an arbitrator will look much more favourably on someone who has at the very least tried to return to work, in some capacity! The more times you have tried, the better.
Any other suggestions most welcome!
Additional related resources and articles
- Return to work (page)
- Thirtieth Return to Work plan final straw for injured worker
- Unreasonably failing to return to work
- Top 10 Return to Work Myths
- Failure to return to work – what’s behind it?
- A cynic might suggest low return to work rates are because life is too good on compo, that is far from the truth
- Why Injured workers want to return to work
- Another typical return to work program
- Forcing injured workers to return to work
[post by WorkcoverVictim and WorkcoverVictim3, transcribed by WorkcoverVictim3]