If you are collecting Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits and you receive a Notice of Ability to Return to Work, do not panic. This form is used by insurance companies to notify injured claimants that they have been released to some type of work. If, for example, your doctor states in a report that you are capable of performing sedentary or light duty work, the insurance adjuster will attach the report to a Notice of Ability to Return to Work and send it to you. If you wish, you can contact your employer to see if work is available that is consistent with those restrictions. As a practical matter, however, it is incumbent upon your employer to notify you if work is available that is consistent with your medical restrictions. While the Notice of Ability to Return to Work says that you have an obligation to look for available employment, whether this is true depends on your situation. If you are in the acute phase of treatment for an injury and you expect to return to your regular job, it makes little sense for you to seek employment elsewhere. If, however, you have reached maximum medical improvement and it does not appear that you will ever return to your regular job, it might be time to look for employment that is consistent with your medical restrictions.
The Notice also states that proof of available employment may jeopardize your right to receive ongoing benefits. While this is technically true, as a practical matter, before an insurance company can take any action to reduce your workers compensation benefits, the company must prove that suitable employment is available. If, for example, your employer offers you sedentary or light duty work and you refuse to at least attempt at work, the insurance company may file a petition to suspend or modify your workers compensation benefits. A modification petition will be filed if you were offered employment that pays less than your pre-injury wages and, if the insurance company wins, your benefits will be reduced. The insurance company files suspension petitions if you are offered suitable employment that pays wages equal to or greater than your pre-injury wages and you fail to return to work.
Sometimes when you reach maximum medical improvement and there is no light-duty work available, the insurance company will request that you undergo a vocational interview. The purpose of the vocational interview is to develop a basis for the insurance company to reduce your workers compensation benefits. You should never attend a vocational interview unless you are represented by an attorney. If you receive a Notice of Ability to Return to Work, contact Fenner & Boles immediately.