NEW JERSEY WORKERS' COMPENSATION
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Returning to Work Full Duty: Implications for Injured Workers and Employers in New Jersey

In New Jersey workers’ compensation, “full duty” refers to an injured worker being medically cleared to return to their regular job responsibilities, the same as before the injury occurred.

Workers who get injured on the job may require medical treatment and time off. The worker’s compensation claim process in New Jersey ensures they receive appropriate care and wage replacement if the authorized treating physician places the injured worker temporarily out of work. As the injured employee undergoes treatment, the treating physician periodically assesses their recovery progress. Once the doctor believes the worker has healed adequately, they might release the worker to “full duty.” This decision signals the worker’s compensation insurance and the employer that the worker can return to their original duties without restrictions.

 

Worker resumes the stressful nature of a full-duty job by balancing many large boxes of responsibility in a confident stance

However, the “full duty” declaration can be a contentious point. While the authorized treating physician might feel that the worker is healed, the worker themselves might not feel fully ready to resume their old tasks. This discrepancy can lead to challenges in the workers’ compensation process.

Available Options

Discussion with the Authorized Treating Physician

If a worker disagrees with the “full duty” assessment, they should first address their concerns with their authorized treating physician. Since this doctor’s opinion often holds the most weight in workers’ compensation cases, it’s essential to have an open dialogue. Sometimes, explaining the specific concerns or symptoms can lead to reconsideration or additional tests.

 

If a worker disagrees with the “full duty” assessment, it is vital for them to ensure that the authorized treating physician fully documents their current complaints and any remaining physical limitations. The physician’s notes should be detailed, covering all aspects of the worker’s health related to the injury. Furthermore, if the injured worker disagrees with the assessment to return to full duty, the medical documentation should clearly record this disagreement. Thorough documentation can serve as crucial evidence should the worker decide to challenge the decision later.

Modified Duty/Work

If an injured worker feels they’re not yet ready for full-duty tasks but believes they can perform some roles, they might explore the possibility of “modified duty” or “light duty” designation with the authorized treating physician. This arrangement allows workers to return but with tasks adjusted to their current physical capability.

Communication

An ongoing conversation between the worker, employer, and physician is paramount. Workers should voice any lingering pain, discomfort, and ongoing physical limitations about the duties they’re expected to perform.

Seeking a Second Opinion

While a second doctor’s opinion might not override the authorized treating physician’s assessment, it can still provide the injured worker with additional insights about their health. Having this secondary assessment can also be valuable if the worker decides to challenge the decision or if further complications arise.

 

When an injured worker returns to full duty before they are physically ready, there are inherent risks and potential consequences:

For the Injured Employee

Re-Injury

The most direct risk is the potential for the worker to re-injure themselves. If they haven’t fully healed, performing tasks that strain their injury could exacerbate the condition or lead to new injuries.

Prolonged Recovery

Engaging in full-duty work before one’s body is ready could prolong the healing process, extending the period the worker is dealing with pain, discomfort, or limited mobility.

For the Employer

Safety Concerns

An injured employee who isn’t fully fit for duty could inadvertently create safety hazards. For instance, a worker with a back injury might struggle with lifting, potentially leading to dropped items or causing hazards for other employees.

Decreased Productivity

If an employee is physically struggling or in pain, they are unlikely to perform at their best. This can slow down operations and affect the overall productivity of the team.

Workplace Morale

The well-being of employees affects workplace morale. If staff members perceive that their health and safety aren’t a priority, it can lead to decreased morale, job satisfaction, and potentially higher turnover rates.

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