Ask the Experts: Employee on modified assignment due to a workers’ comp claim

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Question: We have an employee who is on modified assignment due to a workers’ comp claim. Do we have to pay for the time spent away from work for doctor appointments or does the employee have to use PTO time?

Answer: You may not necessarily have to pay for the time an employee spends at the doctor’s office, but it depends. Typically, when an employee experiences a work-related injury or illness, you refer the employee to your industrial physician for treatment. When an employee receives medical attention at your direction during normal working hours on working days, it constitutes hours worked. Hours worked are compensable hours therefore you would pay for time spent at those doctor’s appointments.

If, on the other hand, the visits are to the employee’s personal doctor, and the visits are not at your direction, then the time spent away does not qualify as compensable hours. In this case, you treat the absences for medical appointments the same way you treat time away from work for medical absences for any other employee. You should refer to your company’s policy because this time may or may not be compensable. If the time is not compensable, the employee may use paid time off (PTO) or sick leave to go to a doctor’s appointment. This is permissible if your employee is not using PTO while receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

Policies regarding employee absences for medical treatment should be governed by your state’s applicable laws and documented in your company policies and handbook. Now is the time to update your policies and handbook if they don’t contain this information. If applicable, review and follow your collective bargaining agreement covering payments for workplace injuries and illnesses. Finally, as an extra precaution, it is always a good idea to consult your counsel with questions regarding workers’ compensation and other employee benefits and leave concerns.

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