If you suffer an injury at work, you may want to quit your job for several reasons. You may have safety concerns about your workplace, you may be worried that you will no longer be able to perform your job duties because of your injury, or you may be interested in leaving for unrelated reasons, such as finding a different job that pays more. Depending on when you quit your job after a work injury and what your reasons are for doing so, you may lose entitlement to some of potential benefits you could have received under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law. It’s important to know the potential risks of quitting your job so that you can make an informed decision.
Temporary Disability Benefits
If you are unable to work due to your work injury, the worker’s compensation carrier will pay you Temporary Total Disability benefits while you are in the healing period for your injury. However, if you quit your job during the healing period, the worker’s compensation carrier will be able to cut off those benefits.
Future Wage Loss Benefits
If you reach maximum medical improvement for your injury and your doctor assigns you permanent restrictions that do not enable you to return to your prior job, you may be able to bring a claim for either retraining benefits or loss of earning capacity benefits. To bring a claim for these benefits, you must be unable to earn wages at the rate you were making before your work injury. Quitting your job for non-medical reasons will also preclude your ability to claim retraining or loss of earning capacity benefits.
If you are unable to perform your prior job duties because of your medical conditions, generally the best thing to do is let your employer terminate your employment. Alternatively, you should document in writing to your employer that you are leaving your employment due to your work-related medical conditions and ideally get an opinion from a doctor supporting that you have permanent work restrictions that are incompatible with your job. It is recommended that you contact an attorney to discuss your options before proceeding.
Permanent Partial Disability Benefits
Quitting your job does not impact your ability to claim Permanent Partial Disability for your injuries. Your eligibility for these benefits will be dependent on the medical opinions of your treating providers.
Quitting your job does not impact your ability to claim medical expenses that are related to your work injury.
Offer of Alternative Employment
A more nuanced issue can arise if your employer offers you alternative work that is within your restrictions, but you do not want to perform that work. Wisconsin Statute 102.43 (9)(a) provides that if an employer “makes a good faith offer of suitable employment that is within the physical and mental limitations of the employee and if the employee refuses without reasonable cause to accept that offer, the employee is considered to have returned to work as of the date of the offer at the earnings that the employee would have received but for the refusal.” This means that if your employer makes an offer of suitable employment that is within your restrictions, the worker’s compensation carrier can stop paying you your weekly Temporary Total Disability benefits. Those benefits would also not be able to be recovered later on with the help of an attorney. Additionally, any potential claim for retraining or loss of earning capacity benefits would like be unsuccessful if you refused such a job offer. This may raise the question – what is considered a “good faith offer of suitable employment” and what is considered having “reasonable cause” to reject the offer? What if your employer offers you a job that is very different from the job you were performing when you got hurt? What if your employer wants you to travel to a different job location?
The precise answer to these questions is not black and white and will depend on the circumstances. The Labor and Industry Review commission has found that the refusal of a job offer was reasonable when that job would have required a 100-mile commute and would have required the employee to refrain from pain medication usage, or when the job would have required a three-hour daily roundtrip commute. (Angelo v. Azco Hennes, 1997 WI Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 212, WC Claim No. 94067747 (LIRC October 29, 1997); Sims v. Time Warner Cable, 2012 WI Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 156, WC Claim No. 2011-010016 (LIRC Nov. 29, 2012).) An employer offering you work at a different time or shift is likely not a sufficient basis on its own for you to refuse the work. A personal preference to not work on a certain shift does not constitute a reasonable justification for refusing a job offer. (Barth v. Waupaca Foundry, Inc., 2019 WI Work. Comp. LEXIS 13, WC Claim No. 2014-022780 (LIRC July 30, 2019).) However, if you have a specific reason that you are not able to work a certain shift, this could potentially be considered reasonable cause to reject the offer. Additionally, if your employer fails to engage in any kind of discussion about the timing of the shift with you, this could be evidence that the offer was not made in good faith.
Quitting After You Have Healed and Returned to Work
If your doctor has already said that you are end of healing/maximum medical improvement and you have been able to return to work at full capacity, there are still some considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether you want to move on to another employer. If your injury were to require future time off of work (such as time healing from a future surgery), the worker’s compensation carrier would no longer be required to pay you for your time off of work if you have quit your original job. Additionally, if your work-related condition were to worsen and impact your ability to earn wages, you would no longer be able to bring any potential retraining or loss of earning capacity claim that you may otherwise be eligible to bring. (However, if you are re-injured at a subsequent employer, you may be able to bring a new claim with that employer.) These are risks to consider when deciding whether or not to move on to a different employer after you have healed from your injury.
If you have questions about your worker’s compensation claim and how quitting your job could impact your claim, contact one of our experienced attorneys.
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