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Do I Have to Take Time Off for a Work Injury?

Workplace injuries often involve serious injuries that require substantial medical treatment. These serious injuries can also require significant recovery time before the employee is healthy enough to return to work. Many employees who suffer workplace injuries and require substantial recovery often wonder whether they have to time off time from work because of the injury. Injured employees do not want to take time off from work because they may not receive compensation, especially if they do not have any vacation or sick time available. Fortunately under Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation Reform Act, an employee may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits if an injury prevents the employee from returning to work.

Depending on how long the injured worker needs to be absent from work, the Act may provide for workers’ compensation benefits. Employees who have suffered a compensable injury at work and cannot return to work may receive two types of benefits: temporary disability benefits and permanent disability benefits. The purpose of temporary disability benefits is to replace temporarily an employee’s lost wages. These benefits begin only if the authorized treating physician authorizes the employee to take off work. Conversely, permanent disability benefits provide long-term compensation if the injury leaves the worker with a permanent impairment.

Temporary disability benefits are broken into two categories: Temporary Total Disability Benefits and Temporary Partial Disability Benefits. Temporary total disability benefits allow an injured employee to receive compensation without taking time off from work. Temporary total disability benefits are usually two-thirds of the injured employee’s average weekly wages earned during the 52 weeks prior to the injury.

These benefits, however, do not start the first day that the injured worker takes off work. Instead, temporary total disability benefits do not start until the eighth day of the disability. If, however, the disability lasts at least 14 days then the disability benefits will be paid back to the first date of the disability. Importantly, in order to receive temporary total disability benefits, a treating physician must authorize that the employee is unable to return to work. If the employee suffers a temporary total disability that lasts seven days or fewer than the employee will not be entitled to any benefits. Therefore, in order to receive compensation during this period, the injured employee will have to take vacation. If the employee does not have vacation available, the employee will likely have to take unpaid time off. It is best for an injured employee to consult the company’s policies regarding taking time off due to workplace injuries.

On the other hand, temporary partial disability benefits do not require that the injured employee take time off work. Instead, these benefits may apply if the treating physician places the employee on “light duty” or restricts the employee’s working hours. The employer is required to follow the physician’s order in providing the employee with light duty job tasks. If the employee does not report to the employer for light duty then the employee may be denied temporary partial disability benefits. Temporary partial disability benefits are paid at 66 ⅔ percent of the difference between the gross light duty wages and the employee’s average weekly wage. Both temporary total and partial disability benefits are subject to the same maximum and minimum workers’ compensation rates.

Temporary disability payments must be paid by the insurance company no later than 15 calendar days after the company receives the notice of injury. Failure to pay benefits or late payment of benefits may be subject to a penalty. The injured worker will be entitled to receive disability benefits as long as the treating physician authorizes the employee to take time off work or places the employee on light duty.

Once the treating physician authorizes the injured employee to return to work, the employee should work with the employer to determine the possibility of returning to work. If the employer offers the employee to return to work under the limits prescribed by the physician then the employee should return to work. If the employee does not accept the offer then the employee may not be entitled to receive future workers’ compensation benefits. Conversely, if the employee is not offered an opportunity to return to work because of the disability then the worker may be entitled to permanent disability benefits.

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