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Back pain and workers’ compensation

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Q. We have an employee who has a “bad back.” We have medical reports indicating he has a congenital back problem that frequently causes severe pain. Although he has a light-duty job, he frequently misses work because of his back pain and often seeks workers’ compensation benefits during his absences. Are we always going to be liable for workers’ compensation benefits when his back prevents him from working?

A.
Michigan’s workers’ compensation law distinguishes a “personal injury” from “symptoms of a pre-existing injury.” A personal injury that occurs at work is compensable. A personal injury that does not occur at work is not compensable, and this remains true even if the employee experiences symptoms of that injury while at work.

The problem in many cases, however, is distinguishing between symptoms of a pre-existing injury (pain) and “aggravation” of the pre-existing injury. This is a fact-based inquiry, but in general, if your employee only experiences back pain at work (rather than re-injures his back), his absences are not compensable under workers’ compensation.

It goes without saying, however, there is a very fine line between what constitutes symptoms of a pre-existing injury and the aggravation of the pre-existing injury.

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