injured worker filling out workers comp claim paperwork in South Carolina

Injured workers navigating the South Carolina workers’ compensation system may find themselves ready to return to work under physical restrictions determined by their workers’ comp doctor.  If you’re in this situation, you must follow these restrictions until you have recovered enough to return to your normal job duties. Your work restrictions will specify exactly what tasks you can and cannot do at work due to limitations caused by your injury.

Your employer will either accommodate the physician’s work restrictions and bring you back to work on a “light duty” basis, or they’ll have to continue providing you with a weekly disability benefit check to cover what you would’ve earned had you continued working.

If your work restrictions can be accommodated at the job, it’s important that you make every effort to perform them to the best of your abilities. It may not be easy to go back to work or to follow the work restrictions, but you have to show them you’re trying. If you refuse to try the light duty position, this can be used to justify cutting off your weekly disability benefits.

Pushing through this difficult period could mean the difference in making or breaking your workers’ compensation claim.

Understanding Work Restrictions

Adhering to work restrictions—limitations set by your doctor to protect your health while you try to return to work—is a crucial part of your recovery. But understanding these restrictions can be confusing, leaving you wondering what exactly you can and can’t do. Here are some different types of work restrictions you might encounter:

Physical Limitations

  • Lifting: Limits on how much weight you can lift or carry are common, often categorized by specific pounds or based on frequency (e.g., no lifting over 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting).
  • Posture and Movement: Restrictions may limit bending, kneeling, squatting, climbing, reaching above shoulder level, or standing/sitting for prolonged periods.
  • Repetitive Motions: Activities involving repetitive use of a particular muscle group might be restricted to prevent further injury.

Hours of Work

You could be placed on a part-time schedule, have shorter workdays, or take more frequent breaks to manage fatigue and facilitate healing.

Modified or Alternate Duties

Your employer might be required to modify your existing job or temporarily assign you different tasks that fall within your physical limitations, such as moving you from a physically demanding role to a clerical one.

Environmental Adjustments

Depending on your injury, you might be restricted from working in environments with excessive noise, dust, fumes, or extreme temperatures. Accommodations may also involve ergonomic adjustments, like the use of a special chair, or the relocation of your workstation to a more accessible area.

Note that your specific work restrictions should be tailored to your individual injury and healing process. If you believe your work restrictions are not being accommodated properly, seek guidance from a workers’ compensation attorney.

It Is Very Important to Try to Go Back to Work

Going back to work might be painful. Despite the circumstances, it is very important to go back to work and at least try to follow your doctor’s light duty work restrictions, even if it is very difficult or painful.

Your employer will be expecting your return.  If you simply call out or don’t show up for work, you’re showing them you are not taking the process seriously. This can be a recipe for disaster.

Not only will you likely not get a weekly benefit check, you might actually lose your job in the process.

If you give it your best shot but the pain is just too great, make another appointment to see the doctor as soon as possible. It is important to be specific and to tell the doctor exactly which work tasks are causing the debilitating pain. You may need additional medical care or an adjustment in your work restrictions. In some instances, the doctor may decide to take you completely out of work again.

Throughout the entire process, keep an open line of communication with your employer. Be sure to tell your employer about the amount of pain you are in, and which job activities are difficult. Also, keep your employer in the loop on all of your medical appointments and updates.

In most cases, injured workers are able to work out a plan with their doctors and employers to return to work if the employer has light duty work available. For many employers and especially smaller employers, this simply isn’t tenable. This could mean staying on disability longer until you are completely recovered.

Rights and Responsibilities Under Workers’ Comp

As an injured worker, you have several rights and responsibilities under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation System. This includes the right to workplace accommodations and the duty to follow restrictions per your assigned doctor. Here’s a breakdown of your protections and requirements:

  • Right to Receive Appropriate Work Restrictions: Employees are entitled to work restrictions recommended by their treating physician. These restrictions should be tailored to your medical condition and the nature of your job.
  • Responsibility to Adhere to Restrictions: You must strictly follow the prescribed restrictions. This means avoiding tasks that exceed your lifting limits, refraining from activities that could exacerbate your injury, and adhering to recommended rest periods. You must accept light duty work if it’s offered, but you can appeal if you believe the work is beyond your capabilities.
  • Right to a Medical Examination: Under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation rules, you must see a doctor chosen by your employer’s insurance provider. However, if you believe they are providing improper treatment or guidance, you can request to seek a second opinion. This ensures that your medical needs and work restrictions are accurately assessed and fairly represented.
  • Responsibility to Communicate With Healthcare Providers: You must directly inform your healthcare providers about your recovery progress and any changes in your physical abilities, good or bad. This clear communication helps them adjust work restrictions accurately and ensures your employer provides tasks that align with your current medical condition.
  • Right to Dispute Inadequate Accommodations: If you feel your work restrictions are not being adequately accommodated, you have the right to dispute this through the workers’ compensation system. This ensures fair treatment and adherence to medical recommendations.

What If Your Work Restrictions Are Ignored by Your Employer?

Most employers comply with state laws regarding disability accommodation. However, if your employer isn’t following your doctor’s orders or refuses to accommodate you at all, this could endanger your health and potentially your workers’ compensation benefits. It’s imperative to address this issue immediately and take steps to protect your rights.

  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all instances where your employer fails to comply with your restrictions or provide accommodations. This includes dates, times, and descriptions of the incidents. 
  • Communicate Your Concerns: Directly address the issue with your employer. Clearly state how they are not meeting your work restrictions and the impact it has on your health and recovery.
  • Seek Medical Support: Consult with your workers’ compensation-appointed healthcare provider. They can reinforce the necessity of your work restrictions in writing, which you can present to your employer.
  • Contact the Workers’ Compensation Board: If your employer continues to be non-compliant, report the issue to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Board. They can intervene and ensure that your rights are protected.
  • Consider Legal Counsel: Seek legal advice from an attorney with experience in workers’ compensation law. At Joye Law Firm, our lawyers can review your case, determine if your employer is breaking workers’ compensation regulations, and file an appeal on your behalf to protect your job and well-being.

Contact an Experienced South Carolina Workers’ Comp Attorney

Every workers’ compensation case is different. If you don’t feel like your injuries are being taken seriously, or feel your work restrictions are unreasonable, you may benefit from speaking with a qualified workers’ compensation attorney.

Our attorneys have experience in workers’ compensation claims involving discrepancies between doctor-prescribed work restrictions and the injured worker’s actual physical limitations. Attorney Sarah Khouri, a workers’ comp lawyer in our Columbia office, recently helped a forklift driver who was placed on light duty after a metal bar became dislodged and struck him on the back of the neck. When the injured worker came to Joye Law Firm, he was in immense pain attempting to fulfill his work on light duty. We helped him get a second opinion from an independent spine surgeon, who recommended he stay out of work and receive a multi-level cervical fusion surgery. In addition to helping our client receive weekly Temporary Total Disability benefits, Attorney Khouri was also able to help him receive a $175,000 settlement. Read more about this case.

A lawyer who understands South Carolina workers’ compensation law can help you navigate this complex process and help you best protect your future. Don’t hesitate to schedule your free consultation with Joye Law Firm. Call us now.

Originally published August 27, 2020. Updated March 14, 2024.

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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