How Soon Should You Return to Work After a Workers’ Comp Injury in Illinois?

Repairman with broken arm and bandage.

After a workers’ comp injury in Illinois, only return to work after your physician has cleared you to do so. Your employer can’t force you to return to work while you are still recovering.

If you return to work after a workers’ comp injury too soon, it may affect your claim and cause you to lose out on workers’ comp payments. In addition, it can cause you to get injured again, leading to further frustrations and complications.

Workers’ Compensation in Illinois

Most businesses in Illinois are required, by law, to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees. Workers’ compensation protects employees in the case of injury on the job, whether it’s a sudden injury or one caused by repetitive stress to the body.

What Is the Process of Reporting and Claiming a Workers’ Comp Injury in Illinois?

The first step after suffering an injury is seeking medical care. Depending on the injury, any delay in treatment could lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. The earlier you get treated, the better. Sometimes, there are injuries (such as internal bleeding) that are not immediately obvious.

The next step is reporting your injury to your employer. This must be done within 45 days of the injury. You may also report it to a supervisor or manager, but reporting it to another employee doesn’t count.

If the injury was a result of repetitive stress that occurred over time, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible after becoming aware of the injury or receiving a diagnosis. An example of such an injury is carpal tunnel syndrome, which can cause tingling and weakness in your arm.

While you may give oral notice to your employer, it’s best to inform him or her in writing to maintain a record of your communication. In the notice, include your name, phone number, address, Social Security number, and a description of the injury. Keep a copy of this notice for yourself.

You then have three years to file your workers’ compensation claim. However, it should ideally be done as soon as possible, as delays in reporting could lead to delays in receiving compensation.

Responsibilities of Your Employer

Once your employer receives notice of your injury, he or she must report it to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission if it caused you to lose more than three days of work.

You will receive a handbook detailing the benefits you are entitled to and the process of obtaining them. You can also download this handbook from the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission website.

Your employer is also responsible for covering the medical services you need to treat your injury through insurance, as well as treatment for rehabilitation. Employers typically subscribe to a workers’ compensation insurance policy so they don’t have to pay these costs with company funds.

What Factors Influence the Timing of Returning to Work?

The most important factor influencing when you return to work is your doctor’s recommendation. Never return to work before your doctor allows you to do so, even if you think you will be okay or are worried about losing income.

Why It Is Important to Follow the Treating Physician’s Recommendations

The treating physician will be familiar with your injury and know when it is safe to return to work. Defying his or her orders could cause you to get injured again.

Often, even if you think you have healed, the injury is not completely gone, and your body needs more time to recuperate. If you put too much stress on your body, it could cause the injury to get worse.

Your doctor may also put you on a restricted RTW (Return to Work) plan, only allowing you to work limited hours or perform certain tasks.

Going back to work too early could cause you to lose benefits you were receiving.

Returning too soon after your injury can also interfere with your claim. If your workers’ compensation claim is based on your inability to work, but you show up to your job and perform your normal duties, you may have difficulty reaching a settlement. Insurance companies will try every tactic to get out of their responsibilities, so don’t give them that opportunity.

What should not be a factor is the RTW coordinator at your job. He or she does not have a role in determining whether you are fit to return to work; that is the job of a medical professional.

The Role of Rehabilitation and Therapy in the Recovery Process

Depending on the injury, rehabilitation and therapy may be required. Physical therapy may be necessary if you underwent surgery and need help relearning how to move your body and limbs. Without physical therapy, you may be unable to perform your daily tasks and return to work.

If your ability to speak was affected due to burns or other injuries, you may also require speech therapy.

There are other less traditional types of therapy, such as massage therapy, music therapy, and meditation. Your doctor may recommend them if he or she believes they could be useful to you.

Even if you don’t require therapy, rehabilitation is critical. Your body needs time to rest and heal, regardless of the injury. For example, if you suffered a hernia from lifting heavy objects, your doctor will likely recommend that you refrain from any heavy lifting until you heal fully.

As an injured worker, you are entitled to compensation for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation, though, is just one of the types of benefits you are entitled to under workers’ compensation insurance.

It’s a good idea to learn the four types of workers’ compensation benefits before filing your claim.

Considerations in Returning to Work

Even after your physician gives you the clear to return to work, it’s important to be aware of the following considerations.

What Are the Laws and Regulations in Illinois Regarding the Return-to-Work Process?

After returning to work, your employer, supervisor, or manager is not allowed to retaliate against you for filing your workers’ compensation claim. If he or she does, contact an attorney immediately.

Try to document the harassment, under the guidance of your attorney. Emails and text messages may serve as evidence of the harassment or abuse.

Since Illinois is a two-party consent state, which means you are not usually allowed to record a conversation without the other party’s knowledge and consent, recording conversations or phone calls at work may be illegal. Consult with an attorney before doing so.

Furthermore, if you are disabled due to the injury, your employer may not discriminate against you as a result. As per the Illinois Human Rights Act, employers may not discriminate against qualified individuals due to disability, and that includes disabilities caused by work injuries.

Impairment Evaluations in Determining Readiness for Work

Your physician will assess your current impairment and use that to determine your readiness for work. At times, a physician may only clear you for certain activities or light-duty work. For example, you may be told to refrain from bending over, or your doctor may tell you to take a break after a certain amount of physical activity.

When you go back to the workforce under these physician-recommended RTW restrictions, your employer is not allowed to pressure you to go beyond those restrictions.

Sometimes, higher-ups will pressure a newly returned worker to do more than what he or she is allowed to as per his or her doctor’s orders.

A manager might bully you or even laugh and make fun of you for being a “weakling.” This constitutes harassment, and you should seek the support of an attorney if it occurs.

Sometimes, your doctor may clear you for work, but you may simply not feel up to it. You may feel weak and unable to perform.

In that case, contact an attorney to learn about your options. Getting a second opinion from another doctor may be worth looking into.

In other cases, your company’s physician may clear you for work, but your own doctor might tell you need more rest. Your employer might be pressuring you to return to work based on the company physician’s opinion.

Workers’ compensation lawyers see the above scenarios very often and know how to deal with them. It’s important to know that in Illinois, an injured worker is allowed to pick his or her own physician, as long as the physician is part of the employer’s (PPP) Preferred Provider Program.

If the employer does not have a PPP, you can pick any medical provider of your choice. In addition, you are allowed to switch providers at will, so a second opinion can help.

The sooner you contact an attorney, the better. If you’re wondering, “how long can a workers’ comp claim stay open,” you have three years to file your claim (although reaching a settlement has no specific time limit). Nevertheless, the earlier you file, the quicker you will get your compensation.