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Light Duty and Workers’ Compensation

A workers’ comp lawyer at Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys explains “light duty” assignment after a work injury

If you get injured at work, your employer may offer you “light duty” as an alternative to being out of work completely. But this can present a host of questions: What is considered light duty? Will accepting an offer of light duty work prevent me from collecting workers’ compensation? Will I be paid the same salary for light duty work?

Often, people have many valid questions concerning their workers’ compensation claim and precisely what it means if a doctor clears them for light duty. If you have questions about how light-duty work will affect your workers’ comp claim in Pennsylvania, you may want to consult with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.

What is Light Duty Work?

workers' comp light dutyTypically, when an employee is hurt in a work-related accident, they will remain off work to undergo medical treatment and recover. Pennsylvania state law requires employers to provide workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers for medical expenses and lost wages.

In some situations, a worker recovering from an injury may return to work while still receiving workers’ comp benefits. Your physician may determine that you can perform light-duty work without impeding your full recovery or aggravating your condition.

When this happens, the physician may restrict some physically demanding tasks or the number of hours you can work, and your employer will offer you a modified job that meets these restrictions. Usually, this means your employer will place you in a less physically demanding job until you are fully healed, or they may alter your current position to meet the physical restrictions set by your doctor.

Light-duty work consists of specific jobs that are less physically or mentally demanding or positions created specifically to provide alternative work for employees. Typically, these positions are designed to accommodate employees who cannot perform some or all of their routine duties due to a work-related injury or disability.

The light-duty work option offered by an employer must meet all of the restrictions imposed by the doctor. As an injured employee, it is critical not to exceed your doctor’s restrictions on your activity. Pushing yourself to exceed your limits and get back to your job before you are entirely healed can inhibit your recovery and even cause you to sustain further injury.

What are Some Examples of Light-Duty Work?

As defined above, workers’ comp light-duty work can be an entirely new job or a modified version of your old job. In either case, the idea is that you can work, but only if the job is less physically or mentally challenging than your regular job based on your work-related injury or disability. Since every injury is unique, your doctor will determine what your restrictions will be. Some examples of modified work include but are not limited to:

  • Taking Inventory
  • Performing less physical tasks
  • Working slower
  • Working reduced hours
  • Performing administrative tasks
  • Supervising job sites or other employees
  • Working at a desk
  • Monitoring surveillance systems

Injured workers may still be capable of many tasks, but not those that involve more physically demanding tasks, like squatting, bending, lifting or moving supplies, carrying work tools, or climbing a ladder, among others.

Will Modified Work Affect My Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Light-duty work can affect the workers’ compensation benefits that you receive, depending upon a few different factors. How your workers’ comp benefits are affected is dependent on the wages you receive on your light-duty job.

  • Suppose your light-duty work brings you the same amount or an increase in income over your regular pre-injury job. In that case, you will still be covered for medical expenses due to your injury, but your workers’ comp benefits for lost wages will be discontinued.
  • Suppose your light-duty job pays less than your pre-injury income. In that case, you will continue to receive medical coverage for the injury and receive lost wage payments in the form of partial disability.

Will I be paid the same for light duty work?

Typically, workers’ comp benefits will reimburse an injured employee about two-thirds of your pre-injury average weekly wage. So, in other words, if you were injured at work and switched to a light-duty job that pays the same or more than the job you were injured at, you will stop receiving lost wage benefits from workers’ comp. But, on the other hand, if your new light-duty job pays less than 80% of what you were earning before your injury, your lost wage payments would continue as a partial disability benefit.

If your employer does not offer light duty or modified work, you will continue to receive your workers’ compensation benefits. Also, it is essential to remember that you do not have to work light-duty jobs that exceed the medical restrictions set by your physician. While it may seem like a minor detail to stay an hour past your doctor’s limitations or pick up a heavy item outside your restrictions this one time, it can severely hamper your recovery and should be avoided at all costs.

Can You Refuse Your Employer’s Light-Duty Work Offer?

Generally, when your physician clears you for light duty work and your employer has made an appropriate arrangement that accommodates all of the restrictions set by your physician, you will most likely have to accept the offer. In many cases, turning down your employer’s offer of light duty work will result in a loss of your workers’ comp benefits.

Under Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law, an injured employee must be willing to accept a light-duty offer, as long as their doctor has released them for modified work, and the company offers a job that meets the restrictions imposed by the doctor. However, suppose the modified work option provided by the employer fails to meet all of the limits and constraints set by the physician. In that case, an employee may be able to refuse the work offer without losing their workers’ comp benefits.

Don’t Wait When Your Employer Offers Light Duty Work

When your doctor releases you to work light-duty, and your employer offers a light-duty or modified duty job position, injured workers must act promptly. If you have concerns that you may not be able to perform the modified job as expected, or the job requires tasks that are outside the restrictions and limits established by your physician, a workers’ comp attorney can help guide you.

Due to the many possible variables involved with workplace accidents, every workers’ compensation claim is unique. Typically, when an injured employee is expected to show up for a light-duty position on a given date, failure to show up and accept the position can endanger the employee’s workers’ comp benefits.

Injured workers that are offered a reduced-duty position can request an extension of the starting date and time so that they can consult with their physician or an attorney. However, if the extension is not granted, they must still report for work at the appointed time and place. If an extension is given, and the position offered by the employer is determined to be within the limits of the doctor’s restrictions, the recovering worker will be required to report for work.

When an injured employee who is cleared for light-duty work exhausts his extensions and still refuses to report for work, the employer has the legal right to withdraw the offer, and the individual’s workers’ compensation benefits may be modified or terminated altogether.

Get Help From an Experienced Workers’ Comp Lawyer

If you get hurt on the job,  your first step is to notify your employer and seek medical attention immediately. When you find yourself involved in a workers’ compensation case, you also need to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

While it is easy to assume that your employer and their insurance provider will do what is fair, the reality is that obtaining the benefits you deserve can be challenging without an expert on your side. Although every workers’ comp case is unique due to the injury, the complexity of the case, and the actions of the employer and its insurance provider, in most cases, a workers’ compensation lawyer can help you get and keep all the benefits you deserve.

The workers’ comp program is a complex system of rules and regulations, and trying to navigate them without an experienced workers’ comp attorney is challenging at best. And while we hope that your employer and insurance company do what is right, they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart.

At Munley Law Personal Injury Attorneys, our team of workers’ comp attorneys are experts in all facets of Pennsylvania workers’ comp law and will work to ensure that you are treated fairly and receive the benefits you deserve. If you have questions about light-duty or modified work and are concerned about how it may affect your workers’ compensation benefits, our team of experienced workers’ comp lawyers can help. Contact us today and schedule your free initial consultation and learn how we can help protect your interests.

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