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What Happens If I Can’t Perform My Previous Job Duties When I Return From a Work Injury?

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Work-related injuries can come with serious setbacks that threaten the financial stability of workers. Fortunately, workers’ compensation laws allow workers injured in the course of their employment to receive needed benefits while they are out of work.

But what happens when workers return to their jobs? And what about situations where workers physically improve as much as they can, but are still unable to perform the job functions required of their previous positions?

This is a predicament our workers’ compensation attorneys at Levinson Axelrod, P.A. frequently encounter, and one that can cause an immense amount of stress and concern for workers. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place precisely for these situations.

NJ Law Requires Employers to Give Hiring Preference to Injured Workers

On September 24, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law Bill A-2617/S-2998, an amendment to the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law.

The Bill protects injured workers by requiring employers to provide a “hiring preference” to employees who have reached maximum medical improvement (meaning they have recovered as much as they are physically or medically able to recover) following a work-related injury.

The Amendment only applies to employers of at least 50 employees and to employees who have completed their medical treatment and are considered at maximum medical improvement (or MMI) from a work-related injury.

What Does This Mean for Me?

New Jersey’s workers’ compensation “hiring preference” law is important for workers who are no longer able to perform the same job duties they performed prior to a work-related injury.

The law will apply to your situation if:

  1. You were injured at work;
  2. You have been placed at MMI (maximum medical improvement);
  3. You work for a covered employer with at least 50 employees or more; and
  4. You have restrictions that make it impossible for you to return to the position that you were in prior to your injury.

If all the above apply, your employer must offer you preference for any unfilled positions for which you are able to perform the essential job duties following your injury. Employers are not required to create new positions or to remove current employees from positions to accommodate you, but if any unfilled positions for which you can perform the essential duties do exist, you must be given preference.

This preference could mean that you would be chosen for a position if all things are equal among candidates, or that you are chosen so long as you meet minimum qualifications, even if other candidates have higher or better qualifications. It could also mean that you, as a previously injured employee, are placed at the front of the line while other candidates are not considered – meaning that employers would have to seek out workers at MMI every time they look to fill positions.

Ultimately, the law places the burden on employers to ensure that they take steps to place a previously injured employee who is MMI and unable to perform previous job duties into an alternative role prior to initiating any separation of the worker. Failure to do so could constitute a wrongful termination and violation of New Jersey workers’ compensation law, entitling you to legal action, restoration of employment, and a recovery of your losses.

Have Questions About Workers’ Compensation Protections? We Can Help.

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. is a nationally recognized personal injury and workers’ compensation firm with a legacy of fighting for injured workers across New Jersey.

Led by a team of award-winning trial lawyers and New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Workers’ Compensation specialists, we have helped injured workers and families recover millions of dollars in benefits and have extensive experience protecting the rights of injured workers when it comes to terminations and other adverse employment actions that violate New Jersey law.

If you have questions about your rights after a work-related injury, we want to help. Call (732) 440-3089 or contact us online to request a FREE consultation with an attorney from one of our 10 office locations across the state.

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