Are Work Restrictions Important in a Minnesota Work Comp Case?

The simple answer to this question is: Heck Yes!!

As you progress through a typical work comp claim in Minnesota, you will likely be given work restrictions by your treating physician.  You may be off work completely for some period of time or you might be able to continue working within  restrictions.  At some point, your treating physician might release you back to work with “no restrictions”, thinking that he is doing you a favor.  Unless your injury was very mild and temporary, a release to work with no restrictions can create many problems for you.

What Are Work Restrictions and Why Are They Important?

Following a work injury, it is often necessary for your physician to give you restrictions, in order to allow you to continue working without further injuring yourself.  While this sounds like simple common sense, it can be a confusing issue for someone who’s never been through the work comp system.  Also, many doctors are not familiar with the work comp system or prefer not to get involved, so this can also create problems.

An example of a very simple restriction might be “no lifting more than 50 pounds”.  Maybe you sprained your back or have a sore shoulder but don’t require surgery and just need a little time to heal.  If you have a job that is not too physically demanding, you might be able to continue working with the restriction until you are fully healed.

On the other hand, if your injury is more severe, your physician may need to limit how much you can lift, how many hours a day you can work, or how much bending, twisting and turning you can do.  Other injuries might require restrictions on the use of your arms, hands or knees. You might be limited to no use of ladders, no working at heights, no use of power tools, no exposure to dust or fumes……….. the list of possible work restrictions is almost endless, depending entirely upon the nature and extent of your injury.

Why Are They Important?

Again, the common sense answer is that they are important to prevent you from aggravating your injury or re-injuring yourself as you recover. The goal of the work comp system is to return you to work at your date of injury job without wage loss.  That can’t  happen if your job duties make your injury worse.

However, the other reason why work restrictions are important is that they provide you with the ability to recover wage loss benefits under the work comp system in Minnesota.  Without restrictions related to your work injury, you do not have a claim for wage loss benefits.  The restrictions do not have to be significant, but you need some restrictions related to the work injury or the insurance company will not have to pay you a wage loss benefit.

So, if your physician releases you back to work with no restrictions and you are then laid off or the employer does not have a job for you, you don’t receive wage loss benefits.  I know this sounds crazy and unfair, because you are clearly out of work as the result of a work injury.  However, no restrictions = no wage loss.

How Significant Do the Restrictions Need to Be in Order to Get Wage Loss Benefits?

The restrictions do not have to be significant at all.  For example, if you had a minor low back injury and you are now limited to lifting no more than 75 pounds, this would be a restriction.  Your actual job might never require you to lift anywhere near 75 pounds, so you would be perfectly capable of performing all your job duties within those restrictions.  However, if the job ends or you are laid off for some reason, that 75 pound lifting restriction might allow you to claim wage loss benefits from work comp while you search for another job – or, if you find a job that pays you less than you were earning when you were injured.

What If the Insurance Company’s IME Doctor Says I Have No Restrictions?

This is very common.  The insurance company may send you for an Independent Medical Examination (an IME) in order to get opinions they can use to cut off your benefits.  The report from the IME doctor may say that you are capable of working full time without any restrictions.  The insurance company may then attempt to discontinue your wage loss benefits and refuse to pay for any future vocational rehabilitation or medical treatment.  At that point, it is very important to have a supportive treating physician who will write a letter for you or your lawyer, explaining that you still have some work restrictions which are related to your injury.  The dispute would then be decided by a work comp judge at a hearing.

What If My Employer Won’t Take Me Back to Work Unless I Have No Restrictions?

Unfortunately, some employers have a “no light duty” policy and will not take you back unless you are released to full duty with no restrictions. This obviously can put you in a very difficult situation, particularly if you have a good job with benefits and  the usual monthly financial obligations which most working people have.  Under those circumstances, I have had many clients over the years feel that they were in an impossible situation.  They felt as if they had no alternative but to ask their doctor for a release to work with no restrictions.  Usually, they then returned to work and suffered at their job, often making the underlying injury worse or aggravating their symptoms.

To make matters worse, a work comp judge in Minnesota has no jurisdiction or authority to order an employer to create a light duty job or take you back to work with restrictions.  In that situation, the employer holds all the cards and the employee has few options.

What If I Have Permanent Work Restrictions and My Employer Can’t Take Me Back?

If you have permanent restrictions from a work injury which has been accepted by the work comp insurance company, you may be eligible for a variety of work comp benefits. These would include wage loss benefits, compensation for permanent impairment, vocational rehabilitation services or even vocational retraining.  For more information on the various types of benefits which might be available to you, please see some of our previous blog posts:

What Is Permanent Total Disability in Minnesota Work Comp?
Retraining in a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case
How Long Do Work Comp Wage Loss Benefits Last in Minnesota?
How Much Is a Permanent Partial Disability Rating Worth in a Minnesota Work Comp Claim?

Our Recommendation

If you have any questions or concerns about the issue of work restrictions, we are happy to answer your questions at any time with a completely free, no obligation consultation.  We will meet with you in our office, in your home or on the phone to help you understand the work comp system and your rights.

Always be sure to let your doctor know about any difficulties you are having following an injury.  While it is important to be able to return to work, your doctor should understand what your job duties are and how they might affect your injury and recovery.  Simple, common sense restrictions from your doctor will protect you from re-injury on the job, but will also provide you with protection if you can’t work and need to claim wage loss benefits.

We hope that you have found this information helpful.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance or answer any questions for you.  Attorney Steve Bradt has been representing injured workers all across northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Range for nearly 30 years.  If you’ve been injured, we can help.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

How Long Do Work Comp Wage Loss Benefits Last in Minnesota?

This seems like a pretty simple question and it is.  However, the answer is not so simple, because it depends upon a lot of different factors and possibilities.  In this post, I will try to offer some general information on how long your wage loss benefits might last, by providing some basic guidelines.

Please understand that this is a basic summary of general Minnesota Worker’s Compensation principles and is not intended as legal advice or to cover all possible situations.  Minnesota work comp laws have changed a great deal over the years and the benefits available to an injured worker are governed by the date of injury.  Limitations and “caps” on benefits really began with drastic legislative changes in 1992 and again in 1995.  For the purposes of this article, we are only addressing benefits for injuries which occurred after 1992.  If you have an older injury claim, your best bet would be to contact an experienced work comp attorney who has been around for a few years.

Wage loss benefits available to injured Minnesota workers

There are three basic types of wage loss benefits available under Minnesota Worker’s Compensation. We have discussed them in some previous posts and they are:

Temporary Total Disability benefits (TTD) – These are benefits paid to someone who is off work completely because of a work injury.
Temporary Partial Disability benefits (TPD) – These are partial wage loss benefits paid to someone who is working after an injury,with physical restrictions, but earning less than on the date of injury.
Permanent Total Disability benefits (PTD) – These are benefits paid to someone who is off work completely because of a work injury and is permanently unemployable.       (See this previous post for more information on Permanent Total Disability)

How long do Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits last?

To begin with, for any injury which occurred on or after October 1, 1995, you are limited to a maximum number of weeks of TTD benefits.  If your injury occurred between 10/1/95 and 9/30/08, the maximum number of weeks of TTD you can receive is 104.  The maximum was increased to 130 weeks for injuries occurring on or after 10/1/08.  For injuries prior to 10/1/95, there are a variety of other laws and limitations which apply and which we won’t go into for the purposes of this post.  There are exceptions to these maximums if you are in an approved retraining program.

Does that mean I am guaranteed 104 or 130 weeks of TTD?

No.  Those are only the maximum number of weeks you can receive. Your TTD benefits may end long before 104 or 130 weeks if one of these things occurs (there are others, but these are the most common):

  • You return to work, for any employer, at the wage you were earning when you were hurt.  At that point, the benefits would and because you are no longer losing wages.
  • You are released to work without any restrictions.  This issue is the subject of many work comp disputes and hearings.  A work comp judge must often decide whether you still have restrictions, based upon competing medical opinions from the insurance company’s doctor and yours.  Unfortunately, if it is determined that you have no restrictions, your TTD benefits will end even if you are not back to work or your job is no longer available.
  • You reach Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) +90 days.  Maximum Medical Improvement means that you are not expected to make any additional or significant improvement, even if you are not completely recovered.  Your TTD benefits will end 90 days after the insurance company serves you with notice of MMI, even if you are still not back to work and have permanent restrictions from your injury.  Yes, this is as unfair as it sounds.
  • You return to work but at a lower wage than what you were earning when you got hurt.  At this point, assuming you still have restrictions from your injury, in most cases your benefits would be switched from Temporary Total to Temporary Partial (TPD) benefits.

How long do Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) benefits last ?

For injuries occurring prior to October 1, 1992, there was no weekly limit on TPD benefits.  However, anyone injured on or after October 1, 1992, is limited to a maximum of 225 weeks of TPD benefits.

Does that mean that I am guaranteed at least 225 weeks of TPD benefits?

No.  Again, 225 weeks is the maximum you can receive, but not a guarantee.  Your TPD benefits may end for one of these reasons (there are others, but these are the most common):

  • You return to work, for any employer, at the wage you were earning when you were hurt.  Just like with TTD, the benefits end because you are no longer losing wages.
  • You are released to work without any restrictions.  Again, this is the same issue which arises for TTD benefits, and is often the main issue in litigation. You must have restrictions from your work injury in order to receive wage loss benefits.

How long do Permanent Total Disability (PTD) benefits last?

Unfortunately, permanent does not really mean permanent – at least in Minnesota work comp.  There have been a number of changes to PTD benefits over the years, but the most recent and significant relates to injuries occurring on or after October 1, 1995.  For those injuries, there is now a retirement presumption at age 67.  This means that the insurance company will stop paying your PTD benefits when you reach age 67 and force you to prove that you would not have retired at that age.  This will require you to file a claim and try to persuade a work comp judge that you would not have retired at age 67.  If you win your case, the insurance company will have to continue paying your PTD benefits beyond age 67.

Summary

I hope you have found this post helpful for  general questions about how long your benefits might last or how they might end.  There are many variables in every case that will affect the length of your benefits.  If you have questions about any aspect of your Minnesota work comp claim, please feel free to contact me at Bradt Law Offices at any time.  I am happy to speak with you about your claim or make an appointment for an absolutely free consultation in our Grand Rapids office or wherever it would be convenient for you.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please tell your friends that we are a source of good work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota and anywhere on the Iron Range.

Retraining in a Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case

Among the many benefits available to an injured worker in Minnesota, retraining can be one of the most beneficial and life-changing.  If you have been injured and live in northern Minnesota, you may quickly find  that your employment options are extremely limited after you recover from your injury.  This may be  especially true if you are unable to return to your previous job and have limited employment skills.

Let’s say you graduated from high school on the Iron Range in the 1980’s and went right to work at one of the mines.  Maybe you went through a millwright program and learned some valuable skills, which allowed you to earn a good living for you and your family.  An unexpected back, neck or shoulder injury resulting in surgery or extended disability could change all of that in a hurry.  Even with a decent recovery from your injuries, you might be left with permanent physical restrictions or limitations which prevent you from returning to work as a millwright (or an electrician, shovel operator, production truck driver, lineman……..you get the picture.)

Now what? If you can’t return to the type of work you were doing before your injury, and if you don’t have any other skills or training to help you earn a decent living, what options do you have?  Retraining might be one of the options available.

What is meant by “retraining” in a work comp claim?

Retraining can include any number of educational opportunities, from a short course at your local vocational school to full studies at a college. There is no standard definition of retraining.  If you are eligible for retraining as a result of your workers’ compensation claim, the insurance company is responsible to pay the costs of your education, including books, tuition, travel expenses, etc.  In addition, you may also be eligible for continuing wage loss benefits during the course of your retraining program.

Who is eligible for retraining?

In order to be eligible, you must first establish that you have physical restrictions or limitations from your work injury which prevent you from returning to your pre-injury job.  You also need to prove that retraining is necessary in order for you to return to a job with earnings close to your preinjury wage.  The process can be long and complicated and the insurance company will usually fight retraining claims because they can be very expensive.  Your best allies in a retraining claim will be an experienced attorney, a supportive doctor and a trustworthy  Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC).    (What’s a  QRC?   Read more here)

If your attorney and the QRC are able to put together a solid retraining plan, the insurance company can either approve or deny the plan. If the plan is denied, a hearing will be scheduled and the matter will be decided by a workers’ compensation judge, just like any other disputed issue in a work comp claim.

What would I have to prove at a hearing to win a retraining claim?

As a general rule, the work comp judge will decide a disputed retraining claim based upon what are called the Poole factors. The Poole factors come from the case of  Poole vs. Farmstead Foods, Inc,  which was decided by the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals in 1989.  In that case, the Court of Appeals identified several factors to be considered in determining whether a retraining plan should be approved. Some of those factors are:

1. The reasonableness of retraining as compared to other job placement activities;

2. Whether the injured worker has the ability and interest to succeed in the proposed retraining plan or schooling;

3. Whether retraining is reasonably likely to result in employment;

4. Whether retraining is likely to get the injured worker back to, or close to, earning his or her pre-injury wage.

Retraining isn’t the first option that we look at in a typical workers’ compensation claim, but it also isn’t only a last resort.  The facts of every work comp case are different and varied.  If you feel that retraining might be an inappropriate option in your case,  some of the factors that determine whether retraining is even a consideration might include:

  • your age;
  • your average weekly wage on the date of injury;
  • the nature and extent of your injury;
  • your ongoing physical restrictions and limitations;
  • your previous education, employment and training;
  • the quality and extent of your job search activities;
  • the availability of jobs in your geographic area;
  • your willingness to relocate, if necessary;

Get More Information

Don’t be afraid to contact us, anytime, if we can answer some questions for you.  It won’t cost you anything and we will give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you.  Remember, you are dealing with an insurance company which handles hundreds or thousands of claims every day. They have experienced claims adjusters and attorneys managing their files.  Even if you don’t need a lawyer at the moment, a little information about how the work comp system works can make a big difference for you in your dealings with the insurance company.

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Choosing a QRC for Your Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Case

Let’s say you have been hurt on the job, are receiving work comp benefits, treating with a doctor and hoping to get back to work as soon as possible.  However, you may have work restrictions which prevent you from returning to your regular job, at least for the time being.

You receive a phone call from a woman (or man) who tells you that she has been assigned to serve as your “QRC”.   QR what?   Immediately, a few questions come to mind, such as:

   What the heck is a QRC?

   Who assigned this QRC to me and why?

   What will a QRC do for me?

   Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?

Let’s take the questions one at a time.

What the heck is a QRC?   A QRC is a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, approved by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. A QRC provides vocational rehabilitation services to eligible injured workers within the framework of Minnesota’s workers’ compensation system.  In a nutshell, the job of a QRC is to help you get back to work at your previous job and previous wage as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, because of significant physical restrictions, economic factors or other issues, that’s not always possible.  If you are unable to return to your previous job, the QRC will assist you in finding another job, within whatever physical limitations you might have, at a wage as close as possible to what you were earning before you were injured.

Who assigned this QRC to me and why?   If you don’t have an attorney representing you, the QRC was probably assigned to you by the claims adjuster handling your file for the workers’ compensation insurance company.  Most work comp insurance companies have a relatively “short list” of QRC’s that they regularly use.  The QRC chosen for your particular case may be assigned based upon where you live and where the QRC has an office.  Or, the insurance company might choose a QRC who has experience with particular types of injuries or disabilities.  More likely, the insurance company will simply choose a QRC with whom they are comfortable and who they know may get your rehabilitation file closed quickly and cheaply (that would be the cynical, employee’s attorney viewpoint).

What will a QRC do for me?   A QRC might provide a variety of services.  In a simple case, the QRC might accompany you to a doctor’s appointment to get clarification of your work restrictions.  The QRC might then communicate with your employer to help you get back to work as soon as possible within those restrictions.  In other cases, where it isn’t possible to return to your job,  the QRC might assist you with a job search to help you find new employment.  Less often, it may even be necessary for the QRC to explore and assist you with retraining options in order to get you back to full employment.  Each case is different and you can find more information about QRC’s at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website here.

Do I have any choice in selecting a QRC?   Actually, you do.  If the insurance company assigns you a QRC, you  have 60 days to either accept or reject that QRC.  At any time within those 60 days you can simply advise the insurance company that you would prefer to select your own QRC. You don’t need to give a reason and the insurance company cannot refuse your request.  If you have an attorney representing you before a QRC is assigned or before the initial 60 days have passed, chances are that your attorney will have a number of QRC’s from which to choose.

The problem arises where you don’t have an attorney and the insurance company assigns you a QRC.  Unless you’ve been through the workers’ compensation system with a previous claim and a QRC  (or unless one of your relatives is a QRC),  you probably won’t have any idea where to even find another QRC, let alone one that you would trust with your case.

Now we’re not suggesting that a QRC assigned by the insurance company is a bad person or a bad QRC.  Not at all.  However, a workers’ compensation case is a very important matter in your life.  We simply prefer that our client’s,  not the insurance company,  select the people who provide care and services in their claims, whether a treating doctor, chiropractor, surgeon…. or QRC.

What We Suggest

The minute that the insurance company assigns you a QRC, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for a consultation about your claim. You don’t necessarily need to hire an attorney at that point, but many lawyers can give you the names of some QRC’s that we regularly use and would recommend.  You may end up hiring a lawyer eventually, but it can be very helpful to have a your choice of a good, trusted QRC on board from the beginning of your claim.

If you have any questions about QRC’s, vocational rehabilitation or any other aspect of your claim, feel free to give us a call anytime for a free consultation at Bradt Law Offices.

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