With every injury:
- See your doctor as soon as possible!
- Continue to see your doctor regularly.
- Be prepared to explain if the light duties the employer offers you are not appropriate, and
- If the employer is harassing you to go back to work too soon – Contact your union!Above all, don’t let anyone make you do work that will hurt you further.
A lot has changed in Workers’ Compensation in the last 10 years. The WCB and employers have been given more power over our lives, taking away the ability of you and your doctor to make decisions about what is best for your health and recovery.
It used to be that WorkSafeBC could not send you back to work unless your doctor agreed that it was safe. That is no longer the case; they can send you back now even if you and your doctor disagree.
In most workplaces these days, the employer will tell you that they have light duties and that you should come in and do them. Employers do this because they don’t want to have a time-loss injury on their record. For some reason they think that it will be cheaper for them to bring workers back earlier. But it is not cheaper because when a worker returns to work too early, he or she may very well re-injure themselves or make their condition worse. What might have been a temporary injury may become permanent. Even from a purely “dollars and cents” point of view, it may cost a lot more in the long run.
And so when you injure yourself or when you develop an occupational disease (like tendonitis or epicondylitis) your employer will tell you that they have light duties and they will probably get you to sign a form agreeing that you have been told this. Once WorkSafeBC has seen this form, they are going to say you should return to work and they will terminate your wage loss benefits if you don’t go back. Of course you can appeal that decision but that’s going to take time and you will probably already have returned to work by the time you get a decision.
What Can I Do?
Go to your doctor! Tell your doctor what the light duties are that the employer wants you to do. Make sure your doctor understands what is involved in the light duties. If your doctor feels that these duties are not safe, get him or her to send in a doctor’s report to WorkSafeBC saying why the light duties are not appropriate at this time. (Doctors already have these forms, called Form 11s). If you disagree that the light duties are appropriate for you, make sure to tell the WorkSafeBC case manager. If they know you and your doctor disagree, they are legally obligated to investigate.
You have to be clear with your doctor about the nature of the light duties and why you can’t do them. If WorkSafeBC thinks that the doctor does not understand the nature of the job duties, they will not accept the doctor’s opinion.
If your doctor just fills out a report saying, “Mary can’t do those light duties” the note will be useless. The doctor must explain why.
Finally, remember that WorkSafeBC policy says that you do not have to take light duties that are demeaning. Policy #34.11 states: The work must be productive. Token or demeaning tasks are considered detrimental to the worker’s rehabilitation.
After that, see your doctor regularly so that he or she will be able to offer an informed opinion about your condition and if WorkSafeBC tries to send you back too early, your doctor will be in a better position to disagree and explain why. Also, if you end up having an appeal about the long-term effects of your injury, the doctor will be able to offer good evidence about that too.
Rush Crane Guenther
Barristers and Solicitors