As you begin to heal after a workplace injury, your employer may request that you return to work on “light duty.”
Though you may be eager to get back to work, you might also have concerns about whether you’re healed enough to resume working in any capacity.
In this article, we’ll explore what light duty entails and whether you have the option to decline returning to work if light duty is offered to you.
What is Light Duty?
Light duty can mean a few different things. Typically, it involves being given work that is less physically demanding, or it requires less mental effort to complete than your previous job. However, it can also mean returning to work at full capacity with authorization to avoid tasks that are impossible, overly difficult, or painful with your injury.
Some of the most common modifications for light duty include:
– Limits on how much weight you can carry, both at one time and throughout the day
– How many hours you can sit, stand, or walk during a shift
– Ability to use crutches, wheelchairs, canes, etc.
– The option to lie down or elevate your feet
– Exemption from tasks that require manual dexterity
– Limits on the types or weights of vehicles you drive
– Restricting duties that include loud noise, temperature fluctuations, strong odors, computer screens, and other sensory challenges
– How many days or hours you can work, in general
You may see other terms in place of light duty, such as:
– Modified duty
– Transitional work
– Temporary alternative assignment
– Selective employment
Your doctor may also include work modification orders based on the medication you’re taking, your current mental health, or how stressful your work environment is.
Do You Have to Take an Offer for Light Duty?
Whether you’re obligated to return to work for light duty when it’s offered is a bit of a gray area. On the one hand, if work outlined in your light duty order falls outside what your doctor has authorized, you do not have to take the offer.
Another way you can be excused from accepting workers’ compensation light duty is if your doctor has not yet authorized it. Medical professionals may not “clear” you for light duty as quickly as your employer wants you to return to work, especially if they’re not familiar with your work environment or the demands that your job entails. They tend to err on the cautious side, ensuring that you’re fully healed rather than sending you back to your duties before you’re mentally or physically ready.
That being said, if your physician has authorized light duty and the duties outlined by your employer are consistent with your limitations, you could lose your workers’ compensation benefits if you decline the offer (emphasis added).
It’s also helpful for you to know that any orders for light duty or medical restrictions that limit your job duties must be in writing to be valid. Oral instructions can compromise your claim as well as prevent you from being able to testify if your workers’ compensation claim goes to court.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney for Help
The concept of light duty is complex. Some employees are eager to return to work in any capacity, while others are reluctant for various reasons. The most important thing to do is protect your health while also preserving your workers’ compensation benefits.
Striking a balance here is essential, and it can be tough if your employer’s goals or the insurance company’s objectives do not align with your best interests. Contact us for a free consultation, and we can discuss your options.