Time off for a workplace injury is more common than you might think. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina saw 29,100 workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020, of which 19,400 required time off or restrictions on job duties. Many of these employees likely requested workers’ compensation for their resulting time off and medical expenses.

Few people want to rush their return to work while recovering from an injury, especially if it slows down their healing process. If your employer wants you back at work too soon after your injury, knowing the laws around workers’ compensation can help you get the time you need for recovery.

Understanding Workers’ Compensation in South Carolina

If you’re injured at work, South Carolina law allows you to be compensated for medical treatment, permanent disability and lost wages caused by your injury. These benefits are called workers’ compensation.

Under South Carolina law, you must tell your employer about the injury within 90 days and visit a physician selected by your employer to qualify for workers’ compensation. The only exception is in the case of a medical emergency, in which case you can seek emergency treatment on your own.

Your employer isn’t obligated to cover the cost of visits to your regular doctor or any other physicians you have been referred to. While you are allowed to ask to see another doctor, your employer can say no.

Refusing medical treatment from the doctor your employer selected can make you ineligible for workers’ compensation. If you have strong reasons to want another doctor, you can request a hearing from the Workers’ Compensation Commission to appeal the decision.

How Long Does Workers’ Compensation Last?

According to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, you can receive workers’ compensation without any restrictions until you are able to return to work at full capacity. This means the length of your workers’ comp depends on the seriousness of your injury and how long it takes to heal.

Workers’ comp doesn’t always end just because you returned to work. If you have restrictions on what you can do per your assigned doctor, you are still eligible for workers’ comp until these restrictions are lifted.

However, workers’ comp also isn’t indefinite. South Carolina law states workers’ comp will not pay benefits past 340 weeks (roughly six-and-a-half years) if your injury allows you to carry out light work, or 500 weeks (just over nine-and-a-half years) if your injury leaves you completely unable to work, with the exception of people who suffered permanent paralysis or brain injuries.

What to Do if You’re Cleared for “Light Duty Work”

Depending on your job and injury, your physician may say that you can work with restrictions or perform light duty work. Light duty typically refers to less demanding work, physically and mentally, than your regular job.

Since light duty work means you are working with restrictions, you are still eligible for workers’ compensation as long as you return to work when cleared to do so. However, if you don’t return to work, your employer can legally stop paying workers’ comp under SC Code § 42-9-190.

For example, say you work in an office. One day you slip and fall, injuring your knee. The examining physician determines that you can carry out normal desk work but cannot perform duties that require heavy lifting. You must return to work to receive workers’ comp.

What to Do if You Don’t Think You’re Ready

Sometimes your employer’s physician may not recognize you’re not ready to go back to work, or worse, push you to go back before you’re fully healed. If you believe your physician has given you clearance too early or has cleared you for tasks you can’t carry out, request a hearing from the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

The experienced Columbia, SC workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm can walk you through the process, argue your case at the hearing, and ensure you receive the compensation and time you need.

Contact Joye Law Firm today to schedule a free initial consultation regarding your case.  We can stand up for your rights and give you the time you need to heal from a workplace injury.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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