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Can You Work While on Workers' Comp in California?

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Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
January 13, 2023  ·  4 min read
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Dealing with a workplace illness or injury is stressful enough, but you also need to think about making ends meet since California workers’ comp benefits are only worth up to two-thirds of your prior wage. One solution is to find supplementary work, but working while on workers’ comp could mean losing benefits.

Below, we’ll go in depth on what types of work you can do while getting workers’ comp, and what kind of jobs are off limits. If you have more questions, also check out our complete guide to workers’ compensation in California.

Can you work on workers’ comp in California?

The short answer is no, you usually can’t work while you’re getting workers’ comp in California. But there are possible exceptions depending on your injury.

Workers’ comp benefits are only available for workers who can’t return to their job because of their illness or injury. If you do return to your job, the state will take that to mean you’re able to work and don’t need temporary disability benefits anymore. Not only will you lose your benefits, but you could get into legal trouble and have to pay a fine if the state finds that you’ve been dishonest about your condition.

The main exception is that you can return to work in a part-time or reduced role, if your workers’ comp doctor says that you can. So if your doctor says you can handle some job duties, and your employer can offer a position that doesn’t conflict with your new limitations, you can do that job without losing workers’ comp benefits.

However, not all employers can accommodate reduced or altered roles, meaning you may not be able to continue working.

Get workers' comp help today.

Types of work you can do while getting workers’ comp

Specific jobs aren’t banned (or permitted) while you’re on workers’ comp in California. Rather, it’s about whether the job contradicts the work limitations given by your doctor.

To sum up, you may be able to work on workers' compensation if:

  • The work was approved by your doctor as within your abilities.

  • Your employer has offered you reduced hours and alternative or modified work based on your doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan.

As an example, let’s say you injured your leg doing construction work, and you can't walk. You may still be able to do part-time work if your employer can offer something that doesn’t involve standing, walking, or using your injured leg. Maybe you can find temporary administrative work or maybe you could still operate a forklift.

Before accepting or beginning any type of work, make sure to clear it with your doctor. You should also talk with your lawyer if you have one. Since workers’ comp lawyers are experts on your state’s laws, they’ll be able to give specific answers based on your situation.

Need help with your claim? Connect with Atticus today to get your questions answered.

Can you turn down work from your employer?

If your employer offers you modified or part-time work that follows your doctor’s requirements, you can’t turn it down or you’ll lose workers’ comp benefits. Even if the work is different from your previous role or isn’t something you’re interested in, California workers’ comp rules say you can't refuse it.

Related: How long can you be on workers' comp in California?

Can you work a second job while on workers' comp?

Technically, yes. There’s no rule that forbids a second job on workers’ comp. But again, all jobs you take need to follow the same restrictions. If you already had a second job when you got injured, make sure to include that income when you file your claim. The income from your second job will be relevant, whether you’re able to keep working it or not.

Can you change jobs while on workers’ comp?

You’re allowed to quit a job at any time, but leaving your job could complicate a workers’ comp claim and you may lose some benefits.

Your medical benefits will continue after leaving a job as long as your treating physician states that you need more treatment to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI).

Any workers’ comp payments you receive should also continue, though there are situations when your payment benefits will end:

  • You take a new job that doesn’t follow restrictions given by your doctor.

  • You start a new job that pays the same or more than your previous job (or more than your maximum temporary disability payment).

If you’re considering leaving your job, you may want to speak with a workers’ comp lawyer first. In certain situations, they may recommend that you wait to leave the job if possible. For example, if you’re negotiating a settlement with your employer, quitting could reduce your negotiating power in some cases and lead to a smaller settlement.

Learn more about when you should hire a workers’ comp lawyer.

What happens if you work too much while on workers’ comp?

You can’t get workers’ comp if you’re working full-time or if you’re doing work that your primary treating physician has said you can’t do because of your injury.

If you do work full-time, resume your old job, or take too much side work, that will be seen as proof that you don’t need workers’ compensation. Not only could you lose your benefits, but it might look like you were pretending to be injured, which is a serious form of fraud. That could mean paying a fine — or even jail time in extreme cases, such as if you falsified medical documents.

Where to get help with your workers’ comp claim

The stakes are high when you’re figuring out a workers’ comp situation, but the system can feel confusing and intimidating. The best way to get help with a workers’ comp claim is to talk with a California workers’ comp lawyer. They’ll know the ins-and-outs of the system and be able to advise you based on your situation.

Atticus is a law firm that can offer you free advice and connect you with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer near you. Our services are completely free and you never need to pay the lawyer unless they actually get you benefits.

Contact Atticus today for support with your workers’ compensation claim.

Maximize your California workers' comp payout.

Frequently asked questions: workers’ comp in California

How do I file a workers’ comp claim in California?

To file for workers’ comp in California, you need to give your employer written notice of your injury within 30 days. They should give you Form DWC 1 and you have one year to fill it out. Learn more in our full guide to filing for California workers’ comp.

How much does workers’ comp pay in California?

California workers’ comp pays up to two-thirds of your pre-injury wages, but there is a minimum payment of $242.86 per week in 2024. Read more about how much workers’ comp pays in each state.

When does workers' comp start paying in California?

There is a three-day waiting period before you’re eligible to receive workers’ comp medical coverage in California, and your weekly payments start after your application (Form DWC 1) is approved. Here's more on how long you'll wait for benefits.

How long can I be on workers’ comp pay in California?

You can generally be on California workers’ comp for up to 104 weeks, but your payments will end sooner if you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). Here’s more on how long benefits last.

Can I work on workers' comp in California?

You can do light-duty or modified-duty work while on workers’ comp and as long as you stay within your treating physician’s instructions, there’s no strict limit on how many hours you can work. Learn more about working while on California workers’ comp.

Where do I find a California workers' comp settlement chart?

Start with our guide to 2024 pay rates for California workers’ comp. It covers how much to expect from weekly payments as well as mileage reimbursement and death benefits.

Related resources:

California Workers' Comp: Everything You Need to Know

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

Your Guide to California Workers’ Comp Settlements

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By Victoria Muñoz

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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