What to do if you’ve been injured on the job as a healthcare worker in NC
Nationwide, there are 3.9 healthcare workers for every 100 residents. In North Carolina, the number of healthcare workers per capita (4.10) is above the national average. The total number of North Carolina healthcare workers is more than 425,000.
A few of the largest healthcare employers in North Carolina are:
- Duke University Hospital (Durham, NC)
- Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center (Winston-Salem, NC)
- Vidant Medical Center (Greenville, NC)
- Carolinas Medical Center (Charlotte, NC)
- Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem, NC)
While it’s generally the job of healthcare workers to heal others, this doesn’t make them immune from injuries and illnesses themselves. If they receive an on-the-job injury, here’s how they can receive workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina.
Common injuries and illness among healthcare workers
Healthcare workers suffer many injuries common to other employees. In addition, they are particularly prone to back injuries while lifting and moving patients often bigger than themselves.
More than any other job, healthcare workers are exposed to contagious diseases and viruses transmitted by blood, other bodily fluids or by aerosol. They are frequently exposed to radioactive material and harmful chemicals.
Exposure to viruses has been a problem now more than ever before. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued emergency standards, effective June 21, 2021, saying:
“For the first time in its 50-year history, OSHA faces a new hazard so grave that it has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States in barely over a year, and infected millions more. And the impact of this new illness has been borne disproportionately by the healthcare and healthcare support workers tasked with caring for those infected by this disease.”
Exposure to the highly contagious COVID virus is not the only danger to healthcare workers. They are also overworked, particularly where there is a shortage of workers. Often, they are quarantined by employer regulation or self-imposed by those avoiding exposure to their families. Additionally, the stress of dealing with patient deaths weighs heavy on healthcare workers. In short, the pandemic is causing physical injuries and mental health symptoms.
OSHA’s new emergency standards require covered employers to implement several requirements to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in their workplaces.
If a healthcare employer doesn’t implement those protections, an injured or infected employee has a good workers’ compensation case. An employer’s failure to follow OSHA safety guidelines can result in increased workers’ compensation benefits for you.
They are also exposed to attacks from violent patients or mentally ill patients.
Workers’ compensation for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers
While North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits apply to most healthcare workers, folks often don’t understand what those benefits are and how to go about obtaining them.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission, created by the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (NC General Statutes §97.1 et seq), requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they have 3 or more employees.
The insurance benefits for an employee include compensation for qualified work-related medical and rehabilitation treatment, lost income, death and other benefits. For restoration of lost income, a worker is entitled to two-thirds of their average weekly or monthly wage each week.
These benefits should cover losses incurred while performing assigned job duties during assigned work hours. They don’t cover unassigned duties outside assigned work hours or activities during lunch or breaks.
What to do if you’re hurt as a healthcare professional
If you are injured or contract an illness on the job, your first step is to report it to your employer. Your report should be in writing. Whatever you say in your report could become important later as your case proceeds. Therefore, you should bring a workers’ comp attorney into the process at this early stage.
You will be required to be examined by a physician that the employer or insurance company selects. You can petition the Commission for permission to change doctors if you’re unsatisfied with your care. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. Failure to do so can jeopardize your benefits.
Within 2 years you must file a claim via the North Carolina Industrial Commission Form 18 Notice of Accident to Employer and Claim of Employee, Representative or Dependent. Your attorney should assist you with your report.
Your employer might “invite” you to return to work during your treatment and recovery. Your doctor will produce a report that might include a prescription of work restrictions on the physical activities, if any, that you are capable of performing during your recovery. Alternatively, your employer might present a job description to your doctor who will determine if it is physically “suitable” depending on your condition.
Your employer can contact you directly about returning to a suitable job, provided they also notify your attorney. You should consult your attorney before accepting or refusing such employment.
What constitutes “suitable employment” will depend on where you are in your treatment or recovery process. If you are still being treated, it’s any employment within the restrictions and authorized by the treating physician.
If you have completed your treatment and are released by your physician, it includes employment you can perform after taking into account your physical and mental limitations. This is a subjective determination and your attorney will review with you all the considerations.
If you refuse to accept suitable employment, your compensation will be terminated. However, you can petition the Commission for a determination if your refusal is justified.