Your Iowa workers comp case will remain open if you decide to switch jobs while you are still treating your injury. However, it can create many problems because if you have additional problems at your new job the workers' comp insurance company can blame your new job for the problems and can deny further medical care and treatment. This can leave you in a difficult situation of potentially having to file a new claim against your new employer.
So, while you can switch jobs during a workers comp case it may not be the best idea.
Here are some other things to keep in mind if you are considering leaving your employment where you were injured. Note: there were more than 20 changes to Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws made in 2017 all of which are bad for injured workers and some of which apply to switching jobs during a workers comp case.
1. Medical Care and Treatment
Technically, you have lifetime medical care and treatment under Iowa law for work injuries. This sounds great but is not as great as it sounds. All the insurance company must do is obtain an opinion letter from another doctor (they do not even have to examine or meet you) that states your current problems are not caused by the original work injury and this gives them a legal basis to deny further medical care and treatment. This is exactly what the insurance company is likely to do if you change jobs while you are still treating for your work injuries. There are some situations where this may make sense, but often it is not until you have reached MMI (maximum medical improvement) and have been given permanent work restrictions.
2. Industrial Disability Analysis
As discussed in other articles on our webpage and in our comprehensive Iowa Workers Compensation Guide there is often a big difference in compensation between what are called scheduled member injures (hands, feet, arms, legs, and eyes) and industrial injuries (back, neck, brain, CRPS, mental injuries following a physical injury, etc.). One of the big changes made in 2017 was that regardless of the type of injury that an injured worker sustained, if they were working for the same employer making the same or more money, then they are limited to the functional impairment rating provided by the AMA Guides. These laws are starting to be interpreted by our Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner and our courts. A good decision for injured workers was handed down in Martinez v. Pavlich, File No. 5063900 (App. Dec. 7/30/2020) which provides that when an injured worker's employment ends (whether voluntarily or not) with the employer they were injured at, if it is a body as a whole injury then they are entitled to an industrial disability analysis under 85.34(2)(v) (as amended in 2017).
This means that arguably if you leave your job where you were hurt because you no longer wanted to work there that your case could be based upon industrial disability. However, this is not the best approach to take because in some limited situations your industrial disability could be lower than your functional impairment rating. Therefore, if you are planning to voluntarily leave the job where you were injured, you should speak with a qualified Iowa workers comp attorney to see how to best handle this transition. Like with many things in life there are right and wrong ways to do this.
3. Potential Higher Settlement
If you have sustained serious work injuries and end up with permanent work restrictions then your employer may bring you back to work, but really would prefer if you found another job. If you quit your job under this scenario, then you will likely receive a smaller sum of money than if you attempt to settle your case (we would highly recommend that you get help from an attorney to do this) with a global release and mutual separation from employment included. Your employer and the workers' comp. insurance company may be willing to pay you significantly more money if you agree to leave your job as part of the worker comp settlement. Keep in mind that this will almost always require you to close your file including medical benefits and your right to review-reopen your case in the future. Sometimes injured workers would prefer to leave and find a different job that is perhaps not as hostile as the one where they were injured.
4. Quitting Your Job
One of the worst things that you can do is to quit your job during the middle of your work comp treatment. First of all, if you are off work receiving TTD (temporary total disability) benefits then chances are that those benefits will end. Also, if you are thinking about filing for unemployment, this will be difficult since you quit and you have to be ready, willing, and able to work. Even if you qualify for unemployment Governor Reynolds recently signed a bill that reduces the number of weeks that you can receive unemployment to 16 weeks and requires workers to take lower-paying jobs sooner or risk losing their unemployment benefits.
5. Retiring or talking about retirement
Another trap for injured workers that was put into the 2017 law changes involves retirement. If you are an older worker who may be considering retirement, if you choose to retire while your workers' comp case is pending then you have likely thrown away thousands of dollars. The new law allows your employer and their insurance company to use retirement against you and make it a primary factor when considering how much compensation you should receive in an industrial disability work injury. Do not let your employer, supervisor, or even your doctors push you into retirement while your workers' comp claim is still pending. Also, be very careful of sharing any retirement plans that you may have with anyone as that statement may come back and cost you thousands of dollars.
There are many more things that you should know if you have been hurt at work and are considering leaving your job. If you have specific questions about your work injury matter feel free to call our office to speak with our workers’ compensation team at 641-792-3595 or use our Live Chat feature by clicking here 24 hours a day/7 days per week. Your information will remain confidential and there is no cost or obligation.
If you do not yet want to speak with an attorney but would like more information about your rights and responsibilities, then request a copy of our Iowa Work Injury Comprehensive Guide which includes the Iowa Injured Workers Bill of Rights and much more. The book is available at no cost because we have seen way too many hard-working Iowans make costly avoidable mistakes.