Returning to Work After Suffering From a Burn Injury
It may be tough to return to work after suffering from a burn injury, but it may also be a critical step in the recovery phase of your healing process. We want you to know you have employee rights regarding how your employer accommodates you after a workplace injury. At Bachus & Schanker, our experienced employment law lawyers are ready to help you through this challenging time.
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How a burn injury can limit your ability to work
After a burn injury, you may find that you no longer have the same abilities as you did prior to the incident. It’s crucial to understand how your new physical limitations can impact your ability to perform essential functions of your job. You need to keep in contact with your employer to let them know the severity of your injury and if you will be able to return to work.
What functions are impaired in burn patients?
Several things can happen after a burn injury requiring constant medical attention.
- Normal fluid/electrolyte balance is disrupted after a burn. Sodium is released from the affected area as a fluid swelling. Burnt skin becomes necrotic (or dies), causing high potassium levels to dissolve on a cellular level. As healing begins, the potassium levels will return to normal. Avoiding further electrolyte body imbalances requires additional glucose monitoring.
- Body temperature changes rapidly, resulting in hypothermia (low body heat).
- Body thermoregulation – Your skin is the largest organ in your body and regulates your body temperature. A severe skin burn disrupts the normal regulation of body temperature.
- Joint function can be drastically affected as the skin begins to heal in a thickened, stiff way called a contracture.
- Manual dexterity can be affected due to nerve damage in your fingers and hands.
- Physical appearance after a burn can cause anxiety in responding to others who may stare or ask uncomfortable questions. Counseling is an excellent way to help alleviate fears when returning to work after a burn injury.
How and when is my ability to return to work determined?
Your medical providers will help assess your readiness to return to work. Some areas of concern will be fatigue, stamina, pain, and itching, requiring rehabilitation. You will also need to feel psychologically fit to return and to feel that your therapy and remedies are under your control.
What are my employer’s responsibilities in accommodating me with my burn injuries?
An employer must make reasonable accommodations easing you back into your job as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship for the employer. At Bachus & Schanker, we can help you understand what is expected of your employer to accommodate your disability.
What if my employer does not offer me a job of any kind?
The Federal Medical and Family Leave Act (FMLA) helps employees and employers determine a reasonable time frame. Generally, your employer can hold your job position open for whatever time frame is required for you to heal and get back to work. If your job is not left open, and no other position is offered, it may be time to speak with an employment law firm to determine if there was discrimination.
What do typical workplace accommodations include?
Your employer can offer the following accommodations temporarily:
- Modified time work schedule due to increased fatigue.
- Limits on how much you can lift and gradually change as you heal.
- Limited exposure to extreme heat or cold as prescribed by a medical burn team.
- Adaptive equipment as needed until full mobility returns.
What laws protect me (the employee)?
Whether your burn injury occurred on or off the job, the employee still has the same rights and opportunities as anyone else since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act was signed into law. It was amended in 2009 to include more definitions of disability. These laws are in place to protect the rights of all employees with disabilities.
What are my options if I do not agree with my employer about the work or tasks that were assigned or offered to me?
Coming to an agreement with an employer can be a complex issue requiring the help of a legal team to sort out.
- Did your doctor clear you to return to work with or without restrictions? Cleared without restrictions means your doctor determined your burn injury will not impact your regular job duties. Cleared with restrictions means your doctor recommends light-duty work modifications until you heal completely. You would supply that documentation to your employer.
- If the employer doesn’t comply with the doctor’s recommendations and assumes you can still do your regular work as before, they will need to be informed of the laws and regulations governing a worker’s rights and responsibilities after injury. That’s where Bachus & Schanker can help you.
There are two types of long-term disability (LTD) payout. The first is private insurance purchased through your employer. Policies are generally limited to two years and offer a percentage of your usual salary.
Another type of long-term disability insurance is through the government. It is called Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The amount is determined by how long you have worked and what was paid into the system. If your doctors have decided you cannot work at all, SSDI may be the best option. At Bachus & Schanker, we specialize in long-term disability claims.
What will happen to your long-term disability benefits if you return to work?
The Social Security government program provides work incentive programs while on SSDI and Medicare, allowing a trial job to see if you can work. You will not lose your SSDI benefits if it is determined you are unable to work at all due to your disability.
What can I do if I think an employer has discriminated against me?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is there to protect employee rights equally for all citizens. It is illegal to discriminate against a person due to a disability, race, religion, color, gender, or age. You have many rights under the law. Since it is a complicated process, it’s best to hire competent employment law lawyers to represent you, helping you receive the compensation you deserve after a burn injury.
Getting back to your work life
Recovering from a workplace injury can be an ordeal, and sometimes getting back to work can help move the healing process along. Knowing your rights as an employee is essential to helping you get back on the job and back to normal as much as possible. At Bachus & Schanker, learn how we can help you recover after a devastating burn injury.
Long-Term Disability (LTD) Insurance. (2023).
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Written and Legally Reviewed By: Kyle Bachus
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Kyle is a member of the Colorado and Florida Bar associations and has served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association for more than twenty years in total. Over the years, Kyle has achieved justice for many clients. He has served on numerous committees and repeatedly won recognition from his peers at both the state and national level. He is proud of the role he has played in the passage of state and national legislation to protect consumers and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer.