by Karl Voigt
I just received a Notice of Ability to Return to Work. What is this?
We are often posed this question by our clients. In short, the Notice of Ability to Return to Work (NARTW) is often the first shot fired in the battle over your wage loss benefits.
The NARTW is a form designed by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Worker’s Compensation designed to advise an injured worker that: 1) he can return to work; 2) that his wage loss benefits could be affected; and 3) that he has an obligation to look for work. It is to be filled in by the carrier and issued to a claimant when a doctor has concluded that he can return to work in some capacity. This can be an opinion from a treating physician, or a doctor hired by the insurance company. Issuance of the form is also a prerequisite before: 1) an employer offers you a return to work; or 2) the carrier conducts a labor market survey.
Generally, if your employer wants to minimize its Workers’ Compensation costs and “invite” you back to work, they must do so in writing, with an accompanying NARTW. The offer itself should include a description of the job, the hours you’re scheduled to work, and the wages you are to be paid. There is a strong argument that a workers’ compensation carrier cannot attempt to reduce your benefits by your possible earnings at this job unless the NARTW is issued along with the offer. The bottom line is that the carrier will have a very difficult time in court if they did not first send you a Notice of Ability to Return to Work (NARTW).
If you refuse to go back to work because you cannot perform the offered job, your employer may file a petition against you to reduce your wage loss benefits. If you are represented by counsel at the first hearing, the judge will very likely dismiss the case against you if the employer has not first issued the requisite NARTW.
Section 306(b)(3) of the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation act requires that the NARTW be issued promptly. The Pennsylvania legislature, however, absolutely failed to define “prompt”. Rather, it has left the definition up to the appellate courts. The courts have lent just a little assistance, ruling that the NARTW should be issued “within a reasonable time “after the doctor opines a claimant can return to work. In short, one must look at the facts of every case. Namely, a NARTW should be issued before the doctor’s opinion becomes stale. When my office deals with this issue, we try to point to evidence that our client has become prejudiced by the late issuance of the NARTW.
Regardless, the NARTW is a form that was designed to put you on notice that the insurer has received some sort of medical opinion that you can return to work. There is no legal requirement that you sign the document, or even do anything with it. However, because the document is a telegraph warning of likely action against you, if you have an attorney, make sure you get a copy to him or her. If you don’t have an attorney, it may be time to speak with one.