Disabled Workers

By Mary Sherwood Sevinsky, MS, CDMS, CCM

Even if you have not been injured or disabled you will likely benefit from the following, especially if considering a career change.  When you have been injured at work it effects not only your and body, but also your loved ones', friends' and employer's.  Not only do you not know what to do or where to turn but chances are good that those around you don't either. Share this information with them so they can better support you!

You are most likely a hard worker who wants nothing but to get back to work.  You may have been in the same job for a long time.  You may fear or have already been told that you will not be able to return to work in the same position. Ever.  What can you do?  What should you do?

Fear is often at the core of most unexpected change and an unexpected work injury is no different.  During the initial phases of an injury medical treatment and your job security  may be unclear.  The more you can do to clarify your situation, the better you can plan your next steps.

So, what should you do if you have been injured at work?

  • Stay in constant communication with your employer - it is important that they understand that you want to come back to work as quickly as possible and where you are in your medical treatment.
  • Arrange all documents you receive in a folder in chronological order.
  • Keep a journal of all conversations and events - include dates, times, location, mileage, a summary of what was said or done.
  • Ask questions and take notes of the answers - write the questions or concerns down as they come to you; you won't remember them at your next doctor or employer meeting.
  • Take stock of the resources you do have - including your support system; make a list of resources you may still need.
  • Understand your state's Workers' Compensation Laws.
  • Do you need an attorney?  A good attorney can help in almost any circumstance and most do not charge for an initial consult - in most jurisdictions attorneys are paid on contingency or from the funds that they are able to get for you.
Another emotion that often enters into the picture when someone is injured at work is grief.  Grief over the loss of:

  • Physical function - often it is the employee who performs manual labor of some sort that experiences an injury; physical function equates livelihood and self-sufficiency.
  • Job - in our culture we frequently identify who we are by what we do; when faced with a job loss, it is common to mourn the loss of identity.
  • Routine - Adults structure their entire lives around our work schedule and can experience a profound sense of loss of security; An injured worker is often left to fill full days alone with nothing to focus on but pain, fear, and/or grief.
If an injury is severe both feelings of fear and grief may be especially strong.  Men often express these emotions in the form of anger as they are often unused to discussing emotions.  The resultant relationship issues are, needless to say, not necessarily beneficial to the recuperation or return to work process!

Acknowledging and labeling these feelings goes along way toward being able to discuss and work through them.    What else can you do?  Grief often progresses  through stages - not always in the same way, order, or time frames.  However, you may find the following helpful.


Like any loss, a job loss often results in a feeling of grief. Inevitably you must mourn the loss of the job and all that it provided: Security, money, self-esteem, status, identity, etc. I like this model for dealing with loss that is similar to the traditional Kubler-Ross Model, but this model provides two additional, more positive stages  7 stages for moving BEYOND the grief.

  1. SHOCK & DENIAL-In this stage you will feel generally numb – this serves as a coping mechanism to protect you from what may be potentially overwhelming. If you recently have lost your job you may be unable to think about how you feel about that loss, what you will do, and so forth. This stage keeps you moving forward physically and ensures you will meet all your basic needs. 

What you can do: You should take this opportunity to breathe. Literally.  Keep a notebook with you during this, and the following stages, and write EVERYTHING down.  Write the smallest thought and feeling, as they come to mind.  Let yourself be emotional and feel.  The worst thing you can do is to block yourself off from your emotions. To refocus:  Keep a separate section for any ides that come to mind – you will find comfort in these as you progress through the various stages.

  1. PAIN & GUILT-Pain and heart-break are laced with guilt in this stage. You may relate it to a lost love from which you suffer and are convinced it must be that you are not worthy of better or must have deserved "it."

What you can do: Accept comfort and seek out others who care about you and/or who have had similar experiences, or who are currently working through this process themselves.  To refocus:  Think about when you have experienced similar feelings – what helped?  What didn’t?  Repeat those things or techniques that are tried and true.

  1. ANGER & BARGAINING-Anger is normal. You may reach this stage pretty quickly after a job loss, whether through lay-off, illness, injury or takeover. Accept this, express it, but be mindful how you do so – you may need the help of those closest to you during the next days, weeks, and/or months.

What you can do: Anger is normal.  Scream into a pillow or an empty field (if you have one available).  Jump up and down and throw a tantrum.  Go to the gym or take walks. Sometimes you just need to physically express your anger to get through it.  

If you are a religious person, you might plead with your higher power at this point, promising anything to have your life returned to "normal."  To refocus:  Participate in an group for job seekers, injured workers, or both. Continue to write in your notebook (call it a journal if you want).  Ask yourself what you are angry about.  Return to the section of your notebook in which you wrote any ideas for your return to work.

  1. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS-It is important for you to “feel” how you feel – you are likely to feel depressed and lonely. You are cut off from your normal social support, however helpful it was. The bottom line is just the act of getting up, dressed, out to work every day, and  interacting with others gives you some social and emotional support that is felt missing at this point. 
    You should allow these feelings, recognize them, and think about what you need going forward.
What you can do: If you are feeling depressed or lonely, take this time to be alone and think about your current situation.  If you feel too lonely seek out others who you respect and/or have a positive, supportive nature. To refocus: Take stock of your assets (literally and figuratively).  These may include your skills and abilities as well as your financial assets.  Resume attending church, the club, gym, or volunteer activities. Start fresh if you haven't done so previously.
  1. THE UPWARD TURN-Eventually you will attain a rhythm in your job search and networking and will feel some sort of calm and organization. You may flash back occasionally to feelings of guilt when you realize this. Understand that this is the first step in moving beyond your grief from the loss of your job and that it is entirely NORMAL.
What you can do: Have a goal, complete with time frame, and steps that you can take toward that goal.  Make your goal more specific and meaningful than “Get a job.”   For example, will you settle for any job right now and then move on to find a better one?  Or, do you have the resources to spend numerous months to search for a job at a given level?  To refocus:  Write down your goal and when you want to achieve it (it can be modified if necessary), develop a schedule (also in writing) that will allow you to reach your goal.  Review your schedule and goal daily.   
  1. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-As you begin the upward turn, you will eventually be able to think about where you want to be and what type of job you might like to have. For many, this is the first time they have had the opportunity to consider what type of job they might like to do and/or what they ENJOY. Many note that the lay-off, downsizing, or job change was the best thing that could have happened because it forced them to look at what is out there relative to what they had to offer. 
What you can do: Keep writing in your notebook and re-evaluate your progress and which goals you want to keep on a weekly basis. What is working?  What is not getting you the interviews you need to get hired? Try to use a critical eye, if this is difficult, seek the help of an expert or a mentor. To refocus: Seek out help from an expert.
  1. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-Eventually, you will be able to accept that you may not be the same exact person you were before your “loss”, but somehow you are the best you can be and you have made the most of what life has to offer. You are able to move forward, seeking and finding other employment opportunities. It isn’t easy, but it is possible, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.  
What you can do:  You will gain confidence and hope from your activity.  Stay organized and act on every lead as soon as possible without being overly hasty.  Note anything positive that happens during the day, whether or not it is job search related.  Make your plan for the next day so that you have something to look forward to.

You may not progress neatly through these stages, but most people will experience some level of each stage.  If you find you need help, check out BetterHelp. Treat this part of your life as a leg of a journey, secure in the knowledge that you will end up where you need to be.  http://www.recover-from-grief.com/7-stages-of-grief.html

Many of the unemployed and under-employed are missing job search basics. The marketplace has undergone tremendous change recently and most job seekers are just not doing what they need to do to find a job. In short, they continue to apply old techniques to a new job market.

In years past, job seekers often found work through a friend or relative. Their father, brother, mother, friend worked at Plant A and, when an opening was available, were brought on. No muss no fuss.

Often, workers didn’t even consider what types of work or employers they might like. In more recent years, job seekers took for granted that if they got an education they would apply for and be hired by the employer of their dreams.

However, job searching is just not that straight forward an endeavor in today’s marketplace. To obtain a position one must apply a number of techniques consistently and repeatedly and better than other applicants if they hope to be hired.

One of the first challenges a job seeker faces is how to find job openings, or find employers that may have job openings. Too many rely too heavily on online applications. These openings are known by, and applied by, so many job seekers that it reduces the chances of any one job seeker being seriously considered.

Tapping into the hidden job market is the best way to be considered for jobs that are or will be available, but have not yet been widely advertised. This path is not for the lazy! It requires hard and consistent work in identifying employers and/or industries who might be interested in hiring the job seeker.

Research, contact, and follow up are required to find these openings. Many job seekers are just not that willing to put in the effort – doing so will set you apart from other applicants. In addition, a job seeker who adopts this approach will also have social contact and feedback that are missing when one is off work.

The effort of identifying and tapping into the hidden job market is not only worth it, but a necessary part of a successful job search. Try it with whatever method you are currently using to increase your chances of obtaining a job!  Following is a suggested job search schedule that will help you find advertised openings as well as those in the hidden job market.

Mary Sherwood, MS, CDMS, CCM
Certified Disability Management Specialist
Landline 302.644.1827 | Mobile:  410.444.1989     

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