Can't legally leave my job. Help make this suck less.
November 26, 2011 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I hate my job and yet I can't legally leave, I don't think. Help me cope.

I sustained a repetitive strain injury from work. Although I'm not in construction or anything like that, my job is largely physical and demandingly so, hence the injury. Modified duties, investigation, doctors and therapists, etc. proceeded.

Fast forward eight months. My condition has improved, but it won't heal; it doesn't seem to be too bad in terms of severity (pain levels are at 2-4, sometimes I'll have periods where I feel almost normal) but very little things can set it off and thus I'm unreliable and still on modified duties at work. Since my job is largely physical, it's been challenging (to say the least) for both sides of the table here - my company can't ethically fire me because I got this from my old job, but it's a challenge for them to scrounge up enough modified duties for me. On my side, I'm a liability to my coworkers, and the well-meaning but really irritating constant barrage of "how's your injury?" doesn't help because I don't know what will make it get better, argh.

(This is not a query for medical advice, I've a handful of medical professionals on my case including my doctor, physiotherapist, massage therapist, a kinesiologist, etc etc... I'm just stating the story here.)

Work regulations and laws around here (I am not from the US) states that I must be rehabilitated back to pre-injury conditions. However, they define this as "worker is able to resume original work duties" and not just "worker is not in pain for several months". My physio has stated that due to naturally lax joints I am easier to injure than average and prone to reinjury, which he has told my employers. However, legal requirements mean they still have to rehabilitate me back to my old job - ie. I can't just transfer to another job; I have to be able to prove I am able to do my old job before I can go to a new one.

Remember what I said about prone to re-injury? Yeah, this doesn't make me happy. (By the way, I work for a multinational corporation which I'm sure is lawyer'ed up the wazoo, so even though I did not consult an employment lawyer I don't think they're BSing me. And we're not quite as pro-suing where I am...)

First time they tried to rehabilitate me back to work (at the 4 month mark) failed spectacularly. We're going to try again next week. Again, I can't transfer to a new job within the company until I can prove I am fully rehabilitated back into my old job (which probably means DOING my old job again for a while); they think that with the new knowledge I gained from injury myself and lots of stretch breaks I should be able to avoid re-injury once I get back on the horse again, so to speak. I am skeptical. My company also can't (won't?) guarantee me a transfer in the "we know we will have this position available and we'll save it for you as soon as you are legally cleared to leave your old job", which would've made me feel better but does not apply here. (Instead, they have to put out an official posting and everyone fights for it and blah blah.)

I've never liked my old job, but I took some satisfaction that I was really, really damn good at it. My coworkers and managers loved me, etc. The love is souring somewhat in my opinion; coworkers can't rely on me for help, my injury is a headache to management and something they can't solve but they still have to pay me for it. And I'm not keen on returning to a job I can get reinjured at. But I can't leave. Well, I suppose I could, but the worker's compensation board would be pissed (and probably won't pay me anymore) and my workplace would be pissed and having a paycheck is important. So I am stuck. Getting a new job elsewhere would a) probably piss off all of the above mentioned parties and b) the new workplace probably won't accommodate my limitations since my injury wasn't their fault, so even if I could get hired (questionable) I probably wouldn't last long.

My post is probably teaming with resentment because that's how I'm feeling. I hate going to work every day as is (although I am quite thankful the modified duties, while not making me better, has not made things worse) and now that I'm going to be "gradually reintroduced to my old job starting next week" I hate it even more.


1) Since I can't seem to leave yet and don't know when I would be able to, what would make the situation suck less? I spend 2 evenings a week in the gym as is (rehabilitating exercises for said injury), schedule 1-2 days at the pool per week, and make sure to relax like hell on the weekend. (By the way, I have also been brushing up on the old resume because I intend to leave--by transferring into another job at the same company OR finding a new job at a new company altogether --as soon as I can legally do so, but since I don't know when this damn injury would heal actively applying for jobs isn't very useful.)

2) In the off chance that the return-to-work plan fails again, and they stubbornly keep on the course of "we'll just modify the plan and wait SOME MORE and EVENTUALLY we'll get you back into the old job no matter what", I may be forced to just quit and damn all the consequences. (Legal, from workplace, from worker's compensation board, etc etc etc) I've only got this one body in this life; I didn't like the old job much and didn't pay enough anyway, so it's not like I'm hurting to keep it. I'm not quite at the stage where I want to ragequit yet, but if they give me a few more reps of the "RTW plan fails, wait, try again" while I'm the one hurting, I might. So...on the chance I have to go down this path, how would I do it while minimizing the burning of bridges? I probably can't avoid burning some, but I'd like to try and minimize the damage.

Sorry this is so long...8 months is a long time to pent up frustration. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you start looking now for a new job in another field that wouldn't involve the type of work that injures you? You don't tell us what your injury is or what kind of work you do, but surely there some kind of work that you could do (or go back to school for or train for over time) that doesn't involve work that hurts your body. Without knowing enough details to advise you on how to do it, I'd start thinking about other jobs you might like to have in other fields and about how to position yourself to get such a job. You don't have to quit this job immediately, but I think you do have to be thinking long-term about work that is safe for you.
posted by decathecting at 5:17 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have a few logical loops that you can look at to address your second question. You say that they are not loving you as much and are not holding a job for you. On the other hand, you say they will be angry if you leave. Both of those things are not likely true.

You also say that you can't do the job without injury, but are looking for the same type of work. Both of those things can be true, but it's not a good plan.

I would guess that they are frustrated that someone they like is hurt, and that a job function is not being done. If you do leave, just be honest that each time you try to do your job it re-injures you and that's not in the best interest for either party. I think everyone would understand.

I also think you are less likely to burn bridges if you clear up what must be a misunderstanding about labor law. I'm not a lawyer, but I will be surprised if a lawyer pipes up with "Yes, anonymous is legally required to stay at a job. Even if she finds the key to her shackles or gnaws her leg off, she still must stay."

There's nothing in your post that explains why you believe that you cannot quit this job legally. They can't quit you without problems. Those problems include a visit by you to your state Labor board, you filing for permanent disability. maybe problems with OSHA depending on the job. The plan is two-fold: To help you get back to your job with them, and to protect them if they must let you go. If they do let you go, you are not fired. You are laid off.

But, you can leave a job at any time. If you are worried about the workers compensation insurance, you can ask the insurance board to clarify whether you are eligible if you leave or if you are let go for reasons other than misconduct. But, that insurance board also can't legally require you to stay at a job.
posted by Houstonian at 5:31 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think you should really chat with a lawyer about this who knows your local rules and regulations, because this doesn't make any sense. What if you'd lost an arm or something? Would you be forced to keep working at this job until it grew back?

I mean, "worker is able to resume work duties" doesn't mean "worker actually resumes work duties", even just reading the text of the words. If that's how your employer is interpreting it, well, that's different from it actually being the letter of the law.

As you're already seeing, people reading this post WILL assume you're in the US and will answer based on that. You aren't in the US and don't say where you are from which means nobody can give you any clarification on what the laws mean there. However, a law stating that a worker has to stay at a job that's injured him previously and actually do that job for some amount of time to prove the injury wasn't permanent seems frankly insane. There are plenty of injuries that leave you permanently disabled.

So, yeah, lawyer up is my advice, even just as a sanity check.
posted by troublesome at 5:39 PM on November 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with the above. It seems strange that you can't change jobs until you are fully rehabilitated. I work for a large MNO in Australia and while we have strong workers comp laws, it would be discriminatory to overlook an otherwise perfectly suitable candidate for a different role. We regularly have people injured at work or through sports that get reassigned to less physical roles - often permanently.

I'd have another chat with HR and your Return to Work person to get clarity.
posted by dantodd at 6:51 PM on November 26, 2011

Yes, a thousand times talk to a lawyer. "Multinational corporation" is not a guarantee they aren't "BSing" you in some way.

I'm going to assume you're not unionized, or you'd have someone better than us to ask this question.

A regulation that a worker can't be reassigned within the company after an injury I think is solely motivated by them trying to deny any liability in your injury. They completely trample over your own interest in not risking re-injury just so they can prove you weren't permanently injured.
posted by RobotHero at 6:57 PM on November 26, 2011

I don't understand this question entirely because you don't have all the facts that need considering. Get a lawyer so you can get FACTS.

A lawyer does not mean a lawsuit. Consultations are cheap ($200? $400?) Get a consultation and discuss your options with a lawyer.
posted by jbenben at 7:27 PM on November 26, 2011

It would help a lot to know where you are. The following is based on my experience in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada.

Generally speaking, when they talk about you being rehabilitated back to pre-injury condition, that is a constraint on the employer and the insurance company/wokers' comp board. In other words, they can't make you go back to work until you have healed to pre-injury condition. They also can't make you go back to a job that is easier/different and lower-paid than the job you had when you got hurt.

In Ontario, you are specifically allowed to change jobs if that is required to "keep you whole."

If you are unable to do the essential duties of your job, your employer must try to provide you with suitable work. Suitable work is work that:

• Is safe and within your physical capabilities.
• You have the skills to do or that you can learn the skills to do.
• Restores your pre-injury earnings as much as possible.

Their goal is to get you back into the job you had before, but if you can't do it for any reason (as someone said above, what if you lost a limb, or were made blind, etc.) they will try to find something suitable. If there isn't anything suitable, you might be eligible for re-training, again with the goal of finding you work that pays what your old job did.

Talking to a lawyer certainly wouldn't hurt. But you might also get enough information about this from WCB. THEY want you back at work so they can stop paying benefits; they're not going to care if it's a different job, so you don't have to be cagey about why you're asking when you ask. You could also ask about what would happen if you started looking for work elsewhere. You could also ask what will happen if this RTW fails, and how many times it can fail before they move you into a different part of the process. Your physiotherapist might have some insight, too, since they probably deal with a lot of WCB cases; s/he may be able to say, Oh, they never make someone try to RTW more than twice, or, Man, I know someone who did it 16 times before they gave up.

In the mean time, as soon as you begin to feel discomfort in your job, stop immediately. Don't wait until you re-injure yourself and then stop. If your body's not ready to be back at work, it's not ready. It doesn't matter if it pisses your bosses and co-workers off, even though I know it sucks to be in that position.
posted by looli at 7:32 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You seem to believe that the law did not consider the possibility that one may not be able to be rehabilitated. This seems unlikely to me - if someone's leg is sheared off in a factory, and their position required the use of their legs, then it's unlikely they can fulfill that position again. The chances that this wasn't considered as a possibility when the law was written seem low.

Consult an employment lawyer.
posted by kavasa at 9:44 PM on November 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am in the US, so you need to look into your local laws/consult a lawyer.

I suffered a workplace injury and the company that employed me continued to pay for my rehabilitation after I left to work for another employer. The company where I sustained the injury was legally responsible for all of my medical bills to restore my health regardless of where I was later employed.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:58 PM on November 27, 2011

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