As you heal and recover from an on-the-job injury, your doctor may give you the green light to return to work in a light-duty capacity. This is a significant milestone in your recovery, but it’s often a time when you’ll notice that there are potential conflicts in the workers’ compensation process.
Often you, as the injured worker, want to return to work. You want to feel useful and productive, and you enjoy the mental health benefits of returning to work. You want to do it safely, though, and without worrying that you will reinjure yourself.
Your employer and its workers’ compensation insurer also will want you to return to work so its liability on your claim will be reduced. But as you cannot perform the same job tasks as you had before the injury, your company may offer you a light-duty position, if one is available.
Light-duty work varies, but it refers to temporary or permanent adjusted work assignment that is less physically or mentally demanding than normal job duties so that workers can continue to recover from their injury. For example, a light-duty position will reflect your work restrictions, such as the amount of weight you can lift, how long you can sit or stand, how many breaks you need, whether a slow- or fast-paced environment is appropriate, and whether you can operate heavy machinery.
If you’ve been injured, you may have questions about light-duty positions and how they can affect your workers’ compensation claim. Here are some important things to know.
1. Your employer doesn’t have to offer light-duty work.
Employers are not required to offer light-duty work to workers returning from an on-the-job injury under workers’ compensation unless the injury falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There is no requirement for the employer to create a light-duty position under the ADA, but if one exists and is vacant, then the employer must reassign the worker to the light-duty job as a reasonable accommodation unless it imposes an undue hardship.
2. Your doctor needs to make a written list of medical restrictions.
Although your doctor or medical health professional may be reluctant to get involved, their input is needed in the workers’ compensation process. You need documents to provide to the Workers Compensation Commission to show the basis for your work restrictions and limitations. This can affect many of the benefits available to you.
3. There are risks if you refuse a light-duty job offer.
If your employer offers you a light-duty position, you risk losing workers’ comp benefits if you refuse the light-duty job offer if it falls within the work restrictions signed off by your treating physician. If the light-duty position doesn’t offer the same compensation package as your previous position, you may be eligible for temporary partial disability benefits to make up the cash shortfall.
4. If you aren’t offered a light-duty position, you must look for one.
If your employer cannot offer you a light-duty position, you must conduct a good faith job search to find another position that is in your industry and field. You can ask for retraining and vocational rehabilitation at your employer’s expense to help you look for other work. Your employer can also provide a vocational counselor to help you find another position, in which case you must cooperate, or else your benefits can be terminated.
When it comes time for an injured worker to return to work, there are often complex issues that raise lots of questions. Turn to Hunter & Everage for help. Our experienced workers’ compensation lawyers are waiting for your call in Richmond, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.