Most individuals who find it necessary to leave work for a medical disability express the desire to return to work at some point in the future. Returning to work is a normal part of our American work ethic, and most everyone believes that returning to work is the best thing for him or her mentally and physically. In addition, psychologically, just the thought of “going back to work” makes people feel better.
However, returning to work after several months or years of disability is not something that should be rushed or unplanned and requires medical and family planning before setting both feet back into the workplace, or behind a desk. Going back to work involves a great deal more than just being able to perform the work. It requires being somewhere on time, handling stress, wearing work attire,driving and commuting and having the physical stamina to work full-time.
One of the worst things that can happen with a disability claim is for an over zealous insured to rush back to work, unprepared, only to find they “just can’t do it.” Over a short period of time, they are in and out, and in and out of work, and employers won’t put up with this behavior for very long.
Because there are plenty of jobs available today, with healthy people to fill them, employers are not inclined to employ workers with restrictions and limitations, or those requesting medical accommodations from the start. This puts disabled persons at a distinct disadvantage when seeking a long-awaited opportunity to go back to productive work.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often not the answer since the law itself gives employers the right to decide under what conditions they will provide work to a disabled employee. Pushing oneself to return to work prematurely is a recipe for disaster.
Of course first steps should be to prepare a good resume although employment statistics show that prospective employers spend approximately 35 seconds reading paper resumes. Today the trend is to place resume info on LinkedIn and Monster.com where most employers are seeking interview candidates. While a good resume can be helpful, learning to complete online employment questionnaires is a better and more productive alternative.
Remember, any information you put on the Internet will be seen by insurers who will now assume you are able and willing to return to work. It’s a big mistake to have information on LinkedIn because insurers assume you are on the site looking for work.
Depending on the amount of time you’ve been out on disability, you may need to brush up on your skills by spending time taking online courses or obtaining CE credits in your professions. This way you will have new and current information to highlight rather than concentrating on gaps in employment.
One of the biggest mistakes is to “fudge” dates of past employment to cover nonworking gaps. Employers are wise to this very common resumé lie and will always verify employment with past employers.
Decisions to return to work should be made jointly with your treating physicians and only after a reasonable “work hardening” period to determine what your work capacity really is. Once you have given yourself a reasonable “work hardening” period and have a dynamite resumé, you can begin to look for work, with the blessing of your treating physicians.
In the meantime, it is essential to ask your treating physician to complete a medical release detailing specific restrictions and accommodations that need to be present in order for you to return to work. If returning part-time, a medical release should be detailed and specific as to what kind of work you are able to do and for how long.
It is also essential that you and your treating physicians agree to your work capacity and are willing to document your physical capacity for work. It is never a good idea to return to work without the buy-in of your treating physicians and a detailed outline of R&Ls clearly defining your work capacity.
Notice that up to this time I have not mentioned notifying the insurance company about returning to work. In fact, insureds should never notify their reps until such time as they have actually returned to work and received a first paycheck.
Sometimes returning to work as planned does not work out. Insurance companies do not really care about the “return to work” per se, but the physical capacity release from your doctor.
Therefore, if you inform insurers you INTEND to return to work and then don’t, they can easily deny claims even when there is no work to go to. Insureds should always make sure that they are physically and emotionally able to remain at work once the decision is made to re-enter the workforce.
I want to be clear, the “obligation” to inform insurers about return to work is when you receive earnings, such as your first paycheck. Return to gainful work expectations should never be revealed or discussed with claims handlers prior to actually returning to work.
Sometimes in the excitement of returning to work, insureds want to hurry up and notify insurers. Please don’t do that. Wait until you receive your first paycheck and then send a fax with the details and a copy of your paystub.
Returning to work after a period of disability should be well planned and well thought out. Although returning to work is a primary focus for most folks, it could be disastrous from a claims perspective if events aren’t timed properly, or multiple returns are unsuccessful.
Working involves more than just doing a specific job. Planning to handle other stressors is also essential to success!