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When Do I Have to Take a Job Offer While I’m Collecting Workers' Comp?

Suitable Employment and Workers’ Compensation

If you are injured on the job and file a claim for workers’ compensation, it is important to understand the concept of “suitable employment” and how it can affect your claim. In addition to medical bill payment, workers’ compensation can provide wage replacement benefits to individuals who are disabled to the point where they cannot work, either at all or earning as much as their average weekly wage before the injury. However, there is a stipulation in the workers’ comp laws of North Carolina, as in most states, that an employee’s benefits are limited when the individual is able to return to some type of “suitable employment.” Collecting workers’ comp benefits when you could have returned part- or full-time to suitable employment can result in criminal penalties for fraud as well as loss of eligibility for future workers’ comp benefits.

So What Is “Suitable Employment?”

North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act definition of suitable employment applies at two different points along an injured employee’s workers’ comp timeline.

  • The first applies to employment that is offered to the employee during their healing period (before they reach what is termed Maximum Medical Improvement) that is within the work restrictions the employee’s doctor has assigned. Also qualifying as suitable employment in this circumstance are rehabilitative and other noncompetitive employment programs offered through the employer/workplace where the injury occurred.
    • Rehabilitative employment provides individuals with functional, developmental, psychological, emotional or cognitive disabilities to overcome barriers to accessing, keeping or returning to some form of suitable employment.
    • Noncompetitive employment, on the other hand, is a special hiring mechanism that allows hiring preference to be given to current and former employees.
  • The second application of suitable employment applies to employment offered to the employee after they have reached Maximum Medical Improvement. The proffered employment must be work that the individual is capable of performing, taking into account:
    • The employee’s preexisting and injury-related mental and physical limitations
    • The employee’s vocational skills
    • The employee’s work experience
    • The employee’s education level
    • Whether or not the proffered employment is within a 50-mile radius of either:
      • The employee’s home address at the time of the injury, or
      • The employee’s current home address if he or she had a legitimate reason to relocate since the date of injury.
How Does Suitable Employment Affect My Workers' Comp Claim?

At the beginning of a workers’ comp claim, if the person is unable to return to their previous position because of the work-related injury then the North Carolina Workers’ Comp Act allows the worker to receive vocational rehabilitation, provided from the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. The injured employee will also be assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor assigned to help them find suitable employment.

If qualifying employment is offered to the employee at either of the stages described above (before and after Maximum Medical Improvement) and the employee does not accept the employment, this will end the individuals’ eligibility for continued benefits through workers’ comp.

Additionally, an employee receiving wage replacement benefits through workers’ comp who is deemed to have turned down suitable employment can face criminal fraud charges subject to significant penalties and prison. An employee who did not return to suitable employment when they were capable of doing so but continued collecting wage replacement benefits can also be required to return the amount of workers’ comp that they received for the period during which they are deemed fraudulent.

Finally, if a person is applying for permanent total disability benefits, their employer has the right to attempt to show the North Carolina Industrial Commission (the agency that handles workers’ comp claims in this state) that the employee is capable of returning to suitable employment, thereby barring them from total disability benefits.

Whether you have a valid workers’ comp claim, want to appeal a determination that you refused suitable employment, or are being accused of workers’ comp fraud, it is important to speak with a local attorney experienced in that area of law. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a civil and criminal litigation firm with offices in Mooresville, Monroe and Charlotte North Carolina, proudly serving the Queen City and surrounding areas. From our dedicated workers’ compensation attorneys to our experienced criminal defense attorneys who defend the rights of our clients in the local courts almost every day, our offices stand prepared to provide zealous representation for your case. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.

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