You were injured on the job and unable to work for several weeks. Your doctor has finally allowed you to return on a full-time basis but you still have a regular schedule of doctor’s visits and physical therapy appointments. The majority of these appointments can only be scheduled during regular business hours so you have to leave work in order to receive the therapy needed to aid in your recovery. Your supervisor and human resources both are aware you were injured on the job and these appointments are for follow-up medical care, but they are requiring you use your personal time off (PTO) for this time away from the office.
As discussed in previous posts, when you are injured on the job you must see a physician selected by your employer. By having a working relationship with a particular medical group, this can expedite everything from the administrative process to when appointments can be scheduled. Often this means the physician’s office will work to accommodate appointments after hours or on weekends.
But if this isn’t the case, who pays for time away from the office for a workers’ compensation medical appointment? Employees out on workers’ compensation receive up to two-thirds of their normal pay as a wage benefit under South Carolina state law. But if an employee goes out under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) they are allowed to substitute accrued vacation, sick or PTO for all or a part of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA regulations do not allow the use of paid leave if the injured employee is currently receiving workers’ compensation benefits, as in essence this would be considered “double dipping.” But at the employee’s request, the employer may designate the time off as FMLA leave time, count it against the employee’s 12 week FMLA entitlement and pay the employee with accrued PTO.
It is important, especially in a workers’ compensation case not to confuse FMLA regulations and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules. It is possible that an initial workplace injury or illness may now have the employee eligible for accommodation under the ADA.
South Carolina workers’ compensation law is very clear about the amount of compensation an employee may receive when injured on the job. There is a seven day waiting period before benefits will be paid. If you are out of work for longer than seven days you will receive two thirds of your weekly salary in benefits. If unable to work for more than fourteen days, you will receive compensation for those initial seven days. After you are allowed by your medical professional to return to work compensation will be stopped. The only circumstance under which this doesn’t apply is if your physician determines you are only physically able to perform light duty. If this is the case and your company decides you are not eligible to be paid at the same rate you were earning in your regular position, then you are entitled to “weekly compensation at the rate of the sixty-six and two-thirds percent of the difference between your average weekly wage and your new wage.”
Currently there is nothing under South Carolina workers’ compensation law addressing specifically the rights of a worker who has been released back to work but who still must take time off for medical appointments. But if your company has an employee handbook stating you have the right to see a doctor without having to use PTO, sick or vacation days and you are being forced to use that earned time off for these appointments, this is a clear violation of company policy.
Concerned your rights are being trampled when it comes to your workers’ compensation case? Please call Dan Pruitt Law Firm today at 864-232-4273 and schedule a complementary consultation to discuss your situation.