Going back to work should be easy after you have recovered from your injury. It can be more complicated than you might expect, however. There are some injuries from which you cannot recover enough to continue working. There are some employers who do not reinstate a recovered or medically stabilized worker. California does not have a law in place that requires an employer to reinstate a recovered worker or to find the worker a new job if the worker is not able to perform their old job after their injury stabilizes.

That can lead a worker to think about changing their line of work. Sometimes, that is a good idea. Other times, it is not. But this is a decision that has deep ramifications for a workers’ compensation claim and should only be undertaken after understanding all those ramifications. A person thinking about a career change should discuss this with their attorney first.

Returning To Work Can Be Complicated

Any worker who is considering a job change will have lots of questions about how that might affect their benefits. It is important to understand that while some issues are straightforward in the process, the issue of returning to work, especially an early return to a different line of work, can be complicated.

An injured worker is not the only person who decides when to return to work. Think of workers’ compensation as an umbrella of services coordinated by a team of providers. These providers usually decide together when a worker is ready to return. This team usually includes:

  • The primary treating doctor;
  • The employer;
  • The claims adjuster; and
  • The worker’s attorney

Keeping an open line of communication with your attorney can be the most important component of your decision-making process.

How a New Job Affects Workers’ Compensation Benefits

One of the key issues for an injured worker is how and whether changing jobs will affect their medical benefits. This is especially true for workers who have only partially completed their workers’ compensation rehabilitation plan. An injured worker should carefully consider any job change that may affect their medical benefits. This is something that bears clarification with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

A worker must also consider lost wages benefits. These benefits are meant to replace about two-thirds of the wages lost while an injured worker recovers. If a worker goes to another job that pays them more than the amount of their benefit, those benefits are lost.

The situation is more complicated if the new job pays less than the benefit amount. Before embarking on a new career, an injured worker must consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Job Displacement Benefits

California does have a job displacement benefits system that allows a partially disabled worker injured after January 1, 2013, to receive certain supplemental benefits. If that worker cannot return to their old job and wants to go to a different line of work, California allows the worker to receive a supplemental job displacement voucher of $6,000 to use for retraining, education, computer equipment, certification fees, or other vocational counseling.

This voucher is allowed when an employer does not offer the worker a return to either their old job or a suitable alternative job. The offer of work can involve any of the following:

Regular work. This is your old job at the same wages and benefits level as before the injury.

Modified work. This is your old job with changes that meet work restrictions outlined in your doctor’s medical report. The pay must be at least 85 percent of your previous wages and benefits.

Alternative work. This is work offered by your employer, but which is different from the work you were doing before the injury. It must meet the doctor’s work restrictions and pay at least 85 percent of your prior wages and benefits.

Once the offer is issued, an employee has 30 days to accept, and no displacement benefits voucher will be offered.

For a worker considering a job change, it may be worth it to see if an employer fails to offer reinstatement in a suitable position before making a move to change their line of work. Your claims administrator must offer you a displacement voucher if your employer does not offer suitable work.

It may be worth waiting until your case is fully resolved or settled before making a career change to avoid losing benefits. From a leverage point of view, it can be helpful to have an employee on the employer’s payroll when negotiating a settlement. Each case is different. Discuss this and all other important aspects of your claim with an Orange County workers’ compensation attorney whom you trust.