One sign that the U.S. economy has been improving is increased job mobility. People who are working feel they have greater freedom to leave their current jobs and switch to a different career track, even if there is short-term risk of lower income. Now that employers are hiring again, people are not so afraid of unemployment.
Inevitably, this means some people who choose to leave their current jobs will be employees with pending workers’ compensation claims.
The case for job mobility
Forty years ago, it was not uncommon for someone just entering the labor force after high school or college to choose an employer, and then stick with that company until retirement. Sure, that might involve promotions along the way, but a worker and an employer had a long-term commitment to each other’s interest.
Today, the typical worker will change careers—not merely jobs—at least three times during his lifetime. Economists say that’s a good thing. Having nimble workers able to apply their skills across a variety of job paths means greater productivity and a faster adjustment to changing economic conditions.
How changing jobs complicates your workers’ compensation case
When someone has been injured or sickened in the line of work, state workers’ compensation laws guarantee that benefits will be available regardless of who may have been at fault. In addition to coverage for medical care, workers can receive the following benefits after a workplace accident:
- Occupational therapy
- Assignment—either on a temporary or permanent basis—to a job within their new capabilities
- Income to replace a portion of lost wages when not able to work
- Income to replace a portion of the wage difference if working at a lower-wage job.
Now, workers’ compensation is not the same as employment-based insurance. It’s not necessarily true that all your comp benefits will be cut off when you change employers. It should be noted, however, that the laws regulating workers’ comp benefits vary from state to state, and the specific facts of your case will heavily influence what benefits you retain when you change jobs. Because of this, it is essential that you retain an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to give you legal advice appropriate to your situation before you change jobs.
The most important question: How good is your job offer?
If you are planning to leave your current employer while you have a workers’ compensation case pending, you need to consider your future income security very carefully.
- If you have been offered a buyout from your employer to retire, you need to ask if the retirement bonus will be sufficient for your future expenses. Do you have sufficient retirement savings built up? Are you hoping to find another job? What will you do if you cannot find employment within your physical limits over the next year?
- If you have a solid job offer, you must honestly assess whether your long-term ability to work is sufficient for the prospective job. Have you told your potential boss that you are pursing a workers’ compensation claim? Will you be fired if your new employer finds out you have a prior injury or a comp case?
The comp benefits you can retain after changing jobs
In most cases, here’s how leaving your employer is likely to affect your workers’ compensation benefits:
- Medical benefits should continue. However, if your new job requires you to engage in activities that exceed the recommendations of your workers’ comp doctor, you can be labeled as a noncompliant patient. A patient who disregards his physician’s restrictions may have his medical benefits terminated.
- Occupational therapy benefits will probably end. Your employer (or his lawyers) can argue persuasively that you have no more need for occupational therapy. If you have retired, you have no occupation. If you have a new job or job offer, then obviously your current physical condition is good enough for your new line of work.
- Alternate or modified work benefits will end. If you were working in a less-stressful job with your old employer, that position is lost when you get another job elsewhere. If you try returning to your former employer at some future date, you will be treated as a new job applicant. There is no obligation to customize a job for your limitations.
- Temporary total disability benefits will end. These benefits provide income replacement if you are completely unable to work. Voluntarily leaving the workforce through retirement signals that you no longer need these benefits. And clearly, if you have found another job, you are not unable to work.
- Temporary partial disability benefits will probably end. These benefits supplement your income if you are working in a lower-paying job. In most jurisdictions, the law favors the employer who argues that your decision to change jobs means you are voluntarily resetting the wage you demand. Your job benefits attorney will be able to advise you whether state law and legal precedents may allow you to continue collecting wage supplements after changing jobs.
When you need trustworthy legal advice
Look before you leap. It’s important—especially after a severe workplace injury—that you do not throw away your proven workers’ comp rights on the mere hope you can find a better income elsewhere. Even if you have a solid job offer, the guidance of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be a great resource before you take any steps that can’t be reversed.
Our worker’s comp lawyers practice in New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and we may be able to refer you to experienced attorneys in other jurisdictions. Learn how we can help you by calling us toll-free today at 800-266-7639. Just for calling, we will send you a FREE copy of The Book on Comp, our guide to understanding your workers’ compensation case.Google+