If you suffer an accidental injury in the course of performing your job duties in South Carolina, you’re eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim for your medical expenses, lost wages, and applicable vocational re-training.
Almost every South Carolina employer with four or more employees must carry workers’ comp insurance. Regardless of who or what caused your work-related injury, you may file a claim, and your employer may not fire you or retaliate against you for doing so.
Maximum Medical Improvement and Light-Duty Work
Claims for more serious injuries might require extensive treatment and significant time off for recovery. In these cases, your doctors will determine when you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). This means you’ve recovered completely or to the extent that your doctors think you will. Ideally, you’ll be able to resume your previous job duties at this point.
In some cases, however, your doctor might allow you to return to work with medical restrictions, which could include:
- The length of time you may walk, stand, or sit for work.
- The maximum weight you may lift.
- The hours you may work daily or weekly.
- Whether you may walk up or down stairs or ramps.
- The time you’re allotted for meals and/or other breaks.
If your restrictions prevent you from doing your previous job, your employer can offer you a light-duty position that accommodates those restrictions. You must attempt to do that job; otherwise, you could lose your workers’ comp benefits.
In a light-duty job, you’re not required to do work that violates your restrictions. If, for example, you’re restricted to lifting no more than 20 pounds, your boss cannot ask you to lift anything heavier. If the light-duty job pays you less than your previous job did, workers’ comp will make up two-thirds of the difference between your old and new salaries.
Temporary Total Disability and Termination of Benefits
You could qualify for temporary total disability workers’ comp benefits and receive compensation for up to approximately five months after your injury if:
- Your employer cannot offer a light-duty job.
- You make an honest attempt to perform the light-duty job you’re offered but cannot do so without aggravating your injuries or suffering a relapse.
In the latter case, you can ask to return to the doctor for a reevaluation in hopes of qualifying for temporary total disability. There is sometimes disagreement among an employee, employer, and doctor as to the employee’s restrictions/accommodations and ability to return to work.
If you receive two copies of SCWCC Form 15, this means your benefits are being terminated. (Section II should state the cause for terminating compensation.) You may fill out section III and return it to SCWCC’s Judicial Department to request a hearing if you disagree with the termination of benefits and feel you’re entitled to further compensation. The services of a workers’ comp attorney are recommended for such a hearing, at which you want to be sure your medical and other evidence is presented in an organized, professional, and convincing way.
Legal Termination of Employment
Most workers in South Carolina are at-will employees who may be terminated at any time as long as the termination is not in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim. You can be legally fired for any number of reasons while you’re off with your work-related injury:
- Your job duties were necessary to your employer’s business, you had to be replaced, and there is no other job available to you.
- You’ve received an impairment rating after MMI and can no longer perform any available job to the standards required by the company.
- Your employer cannot afford to modify your workplace to accommodate your restrictions or impairment.
- You violated company policies.
- You had excessive absences or tardiness.
- You used drugs or alcohol on the job.
- You engaged in violent or inappropriate behavior at work.
If you’ve been given one of these reasons for your termination but feel you were actually fired in retaliation for filing a claim, you should contact a workers’ comp attorney immediately. You might have grounds for a wrongful termination suit against your employer.
Receiving Unemployment and PPD
In almost every case, workers’ comp benefits and unemployment insurance are mutually exclusive. If you lose your job while you’re off due to your work-related injury, you may continue to collect your workers’ comp benefits, but you generally cannot collect unemployment insurance at the same time. To receive unemployment, you must be available for work. If you’re collecting workers’ comp, you’re not well enough to work, so you’re not eligible for unemployment.
The only exception is a case in which your doctors have determined that you’re permanently partially disabled (PPD) and you’re working with restrictions for a lower salary than you previously received while you look for a new job that you can perform. In this case, you might be able to collect your workers’ comp benefits and unemployment insurance at the same time. Again, the services of a workers’ comp attorney are recommended to help you handle the complexities of such a circumstance.
What Are The Potential Benefits of Hiring a Workers’ Comp Attorney?
If you face any of the issues discussed above when you’re ready to return to work in your previous position or in a light-duty role, an experienced workers’ comp attorney can help you by:
- Examining your medical records
- Interviewing your doctors about your restrictions
- Making sure your employer accommodates those restrictions if possible
- Requesting vocational re-training
- Arranging a lump-sum payment of workers’ comp benefits, rather than weekly checks
- Appealing any denial of benefits to the SCWCC, SC Court of Appeals, or SC Supreme Court
If you lose your job while you’re off work due to your injuries, your attorney can obtain records of your:
- Job performance
- Disciplinary history
- Correspondence with your employer
If evidence shows that you’re the victim of retaliatory firing, you may initiate a wrongful termination suit against your employer.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at your job you can speak with a workers' compensation lawyer. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.