Have a worker’s compensation injury?

Still at work but working with restrictions? A common problem for such workers is an employer requesting that the employee work beyond their restrictions. This problem was highlighted in a recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals case.

The employer, a grocer, had a cake decorator who developed carpal tunnel syndrome. The cake decorator’s doctor gave her permanent restrictions. After a year back on the job, the grocer required the employee to exceed the doctor’s restrictions.

This request is all too common with some employers. The pressure to exceed restrictions can not only come from the employer but co-employees as well. There’s a great temptation for an employee to give into such pressure and just exceed the restrictions. That’s what the cake decorator did in this case.

After working beyond her restrictions, the carpal tunnel problem became worse again in a year. Believe it or not, the grocer’s workers compensation insurer denied benefits on the grounds that the cake decorator’s injury was now a“self-inflicted injury” since she did it by working beyond her restrictions. Fortunately, both the Worker’s Compensation judge and the Court of Appeals rejected this argument and found in favor of the employee.

When presented with either a direct request to exceed restrictions or indirect pressure to do so, employees need to resist. Good employers will know that it is not in their long term interest to make such requests, as re-injury is likely. Reminding the employer of this may be one response. Another may be to re-visit the treating physician to see if the restrictions are too strict. Often, doctors are taking an educated guess on the restrictions and actual work may be prove the restrictions as too strict( or maybe the opposite, not strict enough). Another alternative, if available, is to have an ergonomic assessment of the workplace to allow both the employee and employer discuss with an expert on how best to perform a particular job with specific restrictions.
Unemployment note: I don’t have any dispute with Bill Brockmiller’s defense of the UI adjudicators. He was kind enough top hone me before submitting the article. I confessed that my perspective is likely skewed as I see more people that have denied than otherwise and perhaps I should have made that clearer in my article.