Quitting job while on workers' comp in South Carolina

After suffering a work injury, things may feel like they’ve gone from bad to worse. Now, you’re contemplating quitting your job. Maybe it’s because you no longer feel safe or physically capable of handling the job. Or, it could be because your boss and others are going out of their way to make you feel uncomfortable. It could just be that you have a better job opportunity elsewhere. Whatever the reason, a lot of injured workers face this tough decision. But, will quitting your job impact any workers’ compensation benefits you may be owed? Do you have to just “tough it out” at the job until your claim is resolved?

Should I Stay With My Current Employer?

If you’re wondering what happens if you quit your job while you have a workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina, ideally, the answer should be nothing. That’s because your current employment status shouldn’t impact whether you are owed workers’ compensation benefits for an on-the-job accident that happened in the past.

However, it gets a little more complex than that. There are certain instances where quitting your job could impact your entitlement to certain workers’ compensation benefits.

This is true especially if you are receiving weekly disability benefits due to your work injuries. In many situations where an injured worker has been cleared by their doctor to return to work with physical restrictions, the employer will offer the employee a “light duty” job. If the offered light duty job complies with the treating doctor’s restrictions, that is a legal basis for terminating your weekly disability benefits. Of course, some employers are not in a position to offer light duty employment, especially smaller employers. However, we have seen several instances where an injured worker quit their job while getting weekly benefits and within a short period of time, the employer suddenly claims that they have light duty work available, giving them an argument to cut off your benefits.

Another situation where we caution our clients against quitting their jobs is when the injured worker’s injuries are so severe that he feels he will unlikely be able to find a job in the future. This would be the basis of a total and permanent disability claim, the most valuable claim under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Again, if you quit your job before your workers’ comp claim is settled, expect the employer to contend that they could have found a position to accommodate your restrictions. This is often patently untrue but this claim is made to try to de-value the claim of a disabled worker.

When and How to Quit Your Job While on Workers’ Comp

There are some workers’ compensation benefits which should not be affected at all by your quitting your job, especially if you do so to take advantage of a better employment opportunity. This includes your entitlement to medical care. Your employment status should have zero impact on what medical care you need for your injuries. Also, if you claim at the end of your case is one for scheduled member disability (often commonly referred to as a claim for the degree of permanent impairment to the injured body parts), this claim should largely be free of any impact due to your employment status.

If you have an open workers’ comp claim, we suggest you speak to an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney before quitting your job. This is a complicated issue so it’s important to have someone on your side.  Experienced attorneys, like the ones at Joye Law Firm, can help you protect your rights during a job change.

Workers’ Compensation Claims and Your Job Status

While you are free to change jobs at any time, there are a few mistakes which could wind up costing you. Here are some tips on what should you do, and how a move may impact your workers’ compensation case:

  1. Don’t quit your job before you have another lined up.
  2. Wait until your doctor says you’re at “maximum medical improvement” from your work injury before leaving the job unless you have an opportunity to accept a much better job.
  3. Talk to an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. There are very few situations that an experienced workers’ comp attorney hasn’t already encountered. One can help you navigate the process, while taking into consideration the unique circumstances of your particular situation and workers’ compensation claim.

Your Workers’ Comp Medical Benefits are “Portable”

One benefit of the workers’ compensation system to an injured worker is the payment of all medical expenses related to their work injury. Workers’ comp should cover everything from any necessary emergency medical care, hospitalization, surgery, prescriptions, over-the-counter medication, assistive devices, occupational and vocational rehab. Plus, workers’ comp may cover lifetime treatment and care for permanently disabled workers.

Regardless of where you choose to work after your injury, your employment status has no impact on your medical needs. Just because you leave your job, you should still be able to receive these crucial workers’ compensation medical benefits. That’s because your injury or illness occurred during your employment with your former employer. Therefore, they are responsible for the treatment of said injury or illness. Many workers are forced to leave jobs. That doesn’t mean that workers’ compensation gets off the hook for authorized medical care.

Now, just because your medical benefits are safe, there is some risk in leaving a job as has been outlined above.

That’s why it is best to wait after you have settled your workers’ compensation claim to quit your job unless you are leaving for a golden opportunity. However, real life doesn’t always happen that way.  If you find yourself in an untenable situation at work while your workers’ compensation claim is still pending, do yourself a favor and call an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney for some advice. The worker’s compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm offer free consultations. This will give you a chance to talk to an attorney and plot a course that best protects you and your family.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is settle your workers’ compensation claim prematurely. If you are in a rush to settle just so you can quit your job, you may end up leaving money – and important future benefits – on the table. Once a claim is settled, that’s it. You can’t go back to re-negotiate more benefits.

Your Employer and Workers’ Comp Wage Benefits

The other major component of workers’ compensation are the disability benefits paid to injured workers. These benefits replace a portion of your lost wages while you are injured and unable to return to work. In South Carolina, workers’ comp will pay two-thirds of your average weekly gross wages in disability benefits, with a capped maximum benefit. The maximum benefit for a 2020 claim is $866.67.

Your average weekly wage amount is calculated by taking the average amount your earned during the four quarters prior to the quarter of your injury, up to the maximum amount allowed by law. Each year, the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission adjusts the maximum disability amount to the amount of the average weekly wage for all workers in the state during the preceding year.

Wage-replacement benefits depend on your work injury. You may be eligible for:

  • TTD or “Temporary Total Benefits”
  • TPD or “Temporary Partial Disability”
  • PPD or “Permanent Partial Disability”
  • PTD or “Permanent Total Disability”

As the names would suggest, these different benefits are paid to support injured workers, depending on the extent of the worker’s injuries and ability to return to work.

TTD are paid to support injured workers until they have recovered enough to return to work, either at full capacity or on light duty per a doctor’s order. Injured workers who return to work in limited capacity may be eligible for TPD benefits if their light duty earnings are less than their pre-accident average weekly wage.

PPD and PTD benefits are paid to workers at the end of their case. PPD benefits are based on the degree of “disability” (commonly referred to as an impairment recovery) to the injured body part. There are a host of factors considered in determining these awards but a key factor are the impairment ratings assigned by doctors who have evaluated the injured worker.

PTD benefits are paid to workers who would not have a reasonable expectation of finding any level of gainful employment due to their work injuries and restrictions.

Since temporary disability benefits are meant to end when the worker resumes working, this is where leaving your job could complicate your situation. If you quit your job, your now former employer could argue that they no longer owe you wages based on a claim that they could accommodate your physical limitations.

Quitting for a Lower-Paying Job While on Workers’ Comp

Quitting your current job to take a position that pays less could also create some complications. If you have to take new job because your injury prevents you from returning to your old job, you may be able to continue to receive the partial disability payment since you’re earning less due to your injury. A good workers’ compensation lawyer would argue that because your injury is still costing you money, you qualify for workers’ comp disability payments continuing. In fact, we would argue that by taking another job, you have actually helped the workers’ comp insurance carrier because otherwise, they might be obligated to pay your full disability benefit.

Do keep this in mind. IF you start working anywhere, it is very important that you notify your lawyer of this immediately. In a few instances, we have had clients who worked for a prolonged period of time for another employer (unbeknownst to us) while still receiving full workers’ comp weekly disability benefits. This not only created a huge credit or reimbursement amount owed to the insurance company but it can arguably be the basis of an insurance fraud claim against the injured worker.

If you find yourself unable to perform the duties of your new, lower-paying job because of the continuing effects of your on-the-job injury, you might be able to seek a reinstatement of your full disability benefits. However, this could become very complicated and will largely hinge on whether there is supportive medical evidence. We don’t recommend your making these important decisions without first seeking the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Consult a SC Workers’ Comp Attorney About Your Job Status

There is nothing simple about dealing with a work injury. The South Carolina workers’ compensation system is complex, and changing jobs in the middle of your claim can make your situation even more complicated. However, these things happen every day and everything is “figure-outable”. Be sure to talk with a lawyer experienced with S.C. workers’ compensation claims before making any big moves. A good workers’ compensation attorney can help you best protect the value of your workers’ compensation settlement and benefits.

Joye Law Firm has served South Carolina for over 50 years and has offices in CharlestonMyrtle BeachColumbia and Clinton. We will work hard to protect your legal rights. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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