What Happens with My Workers’ Comp If I Quit My Job?

Worker pulling a pallet behind him.

Wondering what will happen if you quit your job while you have a workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina? The short answer to the question should be nothing. Your current employment status should have nothing to do with whether you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for a previous on-the-job accident.

But it may be a little more complicated than that. In fact, in some cases, quitting your job may harm your ability to receive a fair settlement for workers’ compensation benefits.

If your employer has already challenged your claim, you can bet the employer or benefits administrator will argue that quitting your job ends any obligation the company has to you. At the same time, leaving a job doesn’t end your workers’ comp claim. Your change of employment status does not alter the fact that you were injured on the job and need medical treatment that should be paid through workers’ compensation insurance.

At Joye Law, we suggest you consult a South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney before quitting a job if you have an open workers’ comp claim. Our attorneys can help you understand whether the planned job change will affect your workers’ comp benefits. Even the best boss will look hard at cutting the cost of benefit payments to a former employee.

Workers’ Compensation Claims and Your Job Status

Let’s say you were injured on the job and filed a workers’ compensation claim to cover medical bills and to replace wages lost while you were unable to work. You have recovered from your injuries enough to return to work – an admirable accomplishment both physically and mentally considering your injury. Though you are ready to return to work, you still need medical care.

Your employer might be making your life on the job very difficult with unfair demands, such as taking on work tasks your doctor has not cleared you to handle. Both your employer and co-workers may give you grief or tease you about light duty or your “vacation,” which was actually a difficult medical recovery. It might make you want to quit.

You may simply have a better job lined up. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your life and taking steps to move on to better things. You shouldn’t feel like a hostage to your employer just because you were injured on the job.

Leaving your job could harm an open claim, and there are mistakes you could make that would likely jeopardize your benefits regardless of your claim’s status.

What should you do? What will a move do to your workers’ compensation case?

  • First, do not quit your job if you do not have another one lined up.
  • Second, you should wait at least until your doctor says you have reached “maximum medical improvement” from your injury before leaving a job.
  • Third, talk to an attorney. We can outline generalities here, but every workers’ comp claim is different.

Your Workers’ Comp Medical Benefits are ‘Portable’

The primary benefit of workers’ compensation insurance is payment of all medical expenses related to an occupational injury or illness. This covers everything, from initial emergency medical care to hospitalization, surgery, prescription and over-the-counter medication, occupational and vocational rehab, a wheelchair or other assistive devices, and ongoing treatment and care if you have been permanently disabled.

Your employment status has no impact on your medical needs. Leaving a job should not affect your receipt of workers’ compensation medical benefits. Many workers are forced to leave employment due to injuries suffered in workplace accidents, and workers’ compensation continues to pay for authorized medical care.

However, by leaving a job, you may lose eligibility for benefits that pay for vocational rehabilitation, which presumably was meant to help you return to that job.

As we said above, it is best to leave a job after you have settled your workers’ compensation claim and received all medical cost reimbursements. If you have reached maximum medical improvement and your supervising doctor has signed off on your full course of medical treatment, you can calculate your expenses and determine what a fair workers’ compensation settlement must include.

Your Employer and Workers’ Comp Wage Benefits

The second major component of workers’ compensation benefits is disability payments, which replace lost wages during an injured worker’s convalescence and recovery. Workers’ comp coverage pays two thirds of the average of your weekly wages for the 13 weeks prior to your injury as disability benefits, up to a maximum that is adjusted annually.

Depending on the extent of your injury, your wage-replacement benefit may be known as:

  • Temporary Total Disability (TTD)
  • Temporary Partial Disability (TPD)
  • Permanent Partial Disability (PPD)
  • Permanent Total Disability (PTD).

Temporary disability benefits are paid to support the worker until he or she has recovered enough to return to work, whether at full capacity or on light duty as allowed by their doctor. A worker receiving PPD benefits might return to work at full or light duty capacity. A worker receiving PTD benefits would not be expected to resume any level of gainful employment.

Temporary disability benefits are meant to end when a worker resumes their job. A worker on light duty would continue to receive TPD benefits, or potentially PPD benefits, to make up a portion of the difference between light duty pay and their full wages, until their medical status changed for the better.

If you resign from your job, it seems obvious that your former employer would argue that they no longer owe you wages. Because you are voluntarily giving up continued income from that company, they could argue, disability benefits should end, too.

If you decide to leave the workforce but do not qualify for PTD benefits, you should expect to give up disability benefits. Workers’ comp is intended in part to help workers return to the workforce. Temporary or partial disability benefits presume an effort to return to gainful employment of some kind. If you indicate that this is not in your plans, any insurance company would seek to discontinue payments to you.

Leaving your current position to take another job could create complications in this portion of your claim. If you accept a job that pays the same or better than the position you are leaving, there should not be an issue. Your disability benefits would rightly end. But things may be different if the new job pays less.

If you take a new job because your injury prevents you from returning to your old job and the new job pays less because of your injury, you may be able to continue to receive the differential disability payment. Your workers’ compensation lawyer would argue that you continue to lose money specifically because of an injury that qualifies you for workers’ comp disability payments.

You might find that you are unable to perform the duties of your new, lower-paying job because of the continuing disability your prior on-the-job injury caused. Again, this is a loss due to an injury that made you eligible for workers’ comp. A workers’ compensation attorney might be able to help you reinstate your disability benefit if you agreed to return to work for your previous employer. This would require that the employer had a suitable position open for you — or was compelled to admit that such a position existed.

When taking a new job after having obtained a workers’ compensation settlement, you need to tell your new employer about your previous injury. A prospective employer is not allowed by law to ask you about a prior workers’ compensation claim, but telling them about it (in writing) protects you.

Consult a S.C. Workers’ Comp Attorney About Your Job Status

South Carolina workers’ compensation system is complex. Changing jobs in the wake of an occupational injury can complicate a workers’ comp claim. Talk with a lawyer experienced with S.C. workers’ compensation claims before making such a move. A qualified attorney from the Joye Law Firm can help you avoid making mistakes that might jeopardize the value of your settlement or ongoing benefits.

Joye Law Firm has served South Carolina for 50 years and has offices in North Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Clinton. We’ll protect your legal rights. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys.