What Do I Do if I Finished Medical Treatment for My Work Injury but My Employer Fired Me?
One of the most perplexing aspects of the Florida Workers’ Compensation law is the lack of resources or solutions for workers when they have a career-altering injury. When an injured worker has completed their medical treatment but is still physically unable to return to their employment before the injury, the system has very little options for that worker.
Many people assume this is not common, but it happens more than most realize. Often, jobs include a lifting requirement of at least fifty pounds. After an injury, some workers receive the doctor recommendation that they cannot continue to work that type of job or they could increase their chances of a reinjury.
Florida Injured Workers’ Benefits
In Florida, injured workers are entitled to two potential categories of benefits: medical and indemnity or lost wage benefits. This article will focus on the lost wage benefits available to injured workers in Florida.
Lost Wage Benefits
Lost wage benefits are issued according to Florida Statutes 440.15. These benefits are broken down between wages you are entitled to prior to and after a status called Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). Prior to MMI, there are temporary partial disability benefits and temporary total disability benefits. During this stage an injured worker is still in the process of recovery from an injury and they have yet to reach a maximum level of improvement. The problem arises when an injured worker reaches MMI, what are their options?
According to the law, there are two types of lost wages benefits for an individual following MMI. The first is permanent total disability. This benefit is for the catastrophically injured person that cannot return to any job ever again. I want to emphasize this benefit is for someone who cannot return to any form of employment.
For instance, a nurse practitioner making $80,000 a year receives a severe shoulder injury that makes it impossible to perform the job adequately. According to law, this nurse practitioner is not permanently and totally disabled. That individual can get hired doing desk work for $10 an hour; therefore, they are not qualified for permanent total disability benefit. So, even a drastic reduction in earning capacity does not entitle anyone to that benefit. The question becomes, what does the law provide for that person?
Close to nothing.
After permanent total disability, there are permanent impairment benefits assigned to injured workers when they reach MMI. However, these are truly an illusory replacement of wages. They do not fairly compensate anyone for the injury they have sustained.
Many injured workers believe their employer is obligated to bring them back to work in some capacity permanently and at the same rate of pay, however this is not present anywhere in the law. It’s completely in the employer’s right to terminate the employee for not being able to physically handle the job after they are at MMI and essentially it's without consequences to the employer.
Vocational Rehabilitation: A Subset to Lost Wage Benefits
There is one option for an injured worker once they have reached MMI, cannot return to the old job, and are not permanently totally disabled: Vocational Rehabilitation. In Florida Statutes 440.491 there is a possibility for the State of Florida and the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to work together to get the injured worker back to work at a reasonable earning capacity. Now this process isn’t really friendly to the injured worker. It takes a lot of work on behalf of the injured worker to get this benefit.
The State of Florida Department of Financial Services has a Division of Workers’ Compensation. Within that Division, they offer Reemployment Services. They define these services as an option to “help an injured worker return to work when their work-related injury or illness prevents them from returning to their usual line of work. Reemployment services may include vocational counseling, job-seeking skills training, job analysis, transferable skills analysis, selective job placement, training and education or other services deemed necessary and appropriate to help an injured worker return to work.” An informational brochure is available here:
If an injured worker applies for this program and is willing to receive training and education, it is possible to get up to 52 more weeks of temporary total disability benefits. This program is not always provided to everyone though. It’s a benefit through the State of Florida and not from the insurance company. Therefore, they want to use taxpayer money wisely. If the injured worker is too old or not educated enough, they might see it as a waste of resources and not accept the person.
The Florida workers’ compensation statutes are extremely limited when it comes to getting an injured worker back into suitable gainful employment. Unless the injured worker knows how to navigate the system properly, they won’t know how to access this program at all.
At Carrillo Injury Law firm, our goal is to help you seek legal solutions to your workplace problems. Reach out today to find out if there are options under the law that could benefit you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.