I Cannot Work. What Do I Do?
One of the most stressful effects of injury is the uncertainty of your future, but in the short term the question on most people’s mind is: How am I going to keep my paychecks coming now that I am injured? For most of us, losing the ability to work is an economic strain that we would prefer to avoid. I hope to help guide you to some possibilities to help you minimize the impact of injury on your work and economic life.
First, I think it important to clarify a common misconception that I encounter: “The person who hurt me should and will pay my salary while I cannot work.” While this is often partially true for Worker’s Compensation cases, for injuries outside of work generally the at-fault party has no obligation to pay anything until the case has been settled or you have obtained a judgement in court. While you can recover lost wages from an at-fault party when you settle or win your case in court, this amount is not guaranteed and the at-fault party will not pay anything toward your lost wages until either judgment is issued or settlement is reached. The amount of the lost wages will be included in the total of either settlement or judgment.
Whether you are self-employed or working for others, your lost time and earnings are recoverable as economic damages. This means that the hours you are not devoting to work, should be recoverable. The self-employed person will have a considerably more difficult time proving income and loss, so to keep this as general as possible, I will focus on the losses for a traditional W-2 employee.
For a traditional hourly or salary employee, some options are available to help keep money coming in while you are recovering from injury.
Utilize any PTO
If no PTO is available, utilize any accrued vacation time.
If paid leave is offered, apply for this for extended absences.
Ask to shift hours to allow you to attend medical appointments without losing time from work.
Use any temporary disability benefits available to pay for missed days.
Apply for any public benefits that you qualify for with your reduced income.
While most people recover from injuries quickly, some injuries take longer to heal. If your injuries require extensive recovery time, you may want to protect your future employment though you cannot currently work. Here are some suggestions to protect your employment while injured:
First, request any accommodations with your employer, which may help you remain employed (even part-time). This request should be in writing and specific to both the condition and the accommodation requested.
If you cannot work with accommodations, you may be able to obtain FMLA leave. This option has some paperwork required by your doctor and will be reviewed by your employer prior to the beginning of leave. It is particularly important to apply as soon as you find you are unable to continue working and comply with all information requests and deadlines of your employer.
When you are ready to return to work, you are hopefully back to your old self. However, if you still have limitations, look at the position requirements for your job. If you could meet those requirements with reasonable accommodations, you may still be able to hold the same position. You will want to make a written request for any accommodations you are requesting. If you no longer meet the requirements of your pre-injury position, you should inquire about any other positions in the company for which you might be qualified. If you are qualified and interested in those positions, let your human resourced department know in writing of your desire to apply for those positions.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you stay employed with your company after becoming injured.
**Disclaimer: This post is meant for general informational purposes only and should not be misunderstood to be legal advice or any guarantee of a particular outcome. No post is a substitute for personal, case-specific legal analysis. There are many issues, which impact legal analysis, so you should obtain a legal consultation to discuss your situation. **