If you’ve suffered a significant on-the-job injury, you may wonder about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to returning to work. If you are eligible for workers’ compensation and may be permanently impaired, you can start claiming healing period benefits immediately following your injury if you have a possibly permanent impairment—there is no waiting period. As you begin to recover, however, you may become able to perform some aspects of your job or a different job for your employer. Does your employer have to find “light duty” work for you during your recuperation, and do you have to accept this offer to work?
What is “light duty” work?
During the recovery period, while an injured employee is undergoing medical care and before a determination of maximum medical improvement (MMI) is rendered, he or she may be able to perform some but not all of the essential functions of his or her job. In this situation, an employer and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier can either pay healing period benefits or provide light duty work that is within the scope of the recovering worker’s abilities.
Light duty work is generally intended to transition a worker back to his or her job. An employer does not have to create or provide a permanent position or light duty work assignment for a worker who is injured on the job and can no longer perform the essential functions of his position after reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI).
What kind of jobs qualify as light duty?
Light duty work must fall within the physical restrictions imposed by an injured worker’s treating physicians, but it does not have to be related to the worker’s usual job. An employer can offer a worker any duties that are necessary to its normal business operations. This can be frustrating for an injured worker, since it can mean the light duty work is outside the scope of his or her usual job duties or interests.
For instance, an injured worker is a surgical nurse who severs a tendon in her leg in a workplace accident. She cannot perform her essential job duties, which include standing, while recovering from her injuries. Even if light duty positions exist that are directly related to surgical support, like inventory or supply ordering, her employer is within its rights to offer her a light duty assignment that involves answering phone calls, managing billing, and pursuing collections.
Light duty work can also encompass a worker’s regular job minus certain strenuous tasks (like heavy lifting), with some added assistance or accommodation (like a stool or chair), or performed on a modified schedule (perhaps with fewer hours or more frequent breaks).
What’s the process for obtaining light duty work?
Your employer is incentivized to provide light duty work to injured employees because this reduces the benefits its workers’ compensation carrier must pay to an injured employee. Iowa workers’ compensation law requires that you must accept suitable light duty work offered by your employer in order to remain eligible for temporary partial disability benefits. You are not permitted to reject proffered suitable light duty work and opt to receive healing period benefits instead, even if the work is unappealing to you. You are not required, however, to accept light duty work that does not comply with your doctor’s work restrictions or is otherwise “unsuitable.”
Common light duty assignments include clerical tasks, light assembly work, supervisory responsibilities, teaching or training, research, and other administrative tasks that are not physically demanding. Light duty positions can be mentally stressful, however. If a treating provider determines that the assignment is inappropriate to or is impeding the injured worker’s recovery, the worker may have grounds to refuse to continue the light duty work. Iowa courts have also found that light duty work that is very far from an injured worker’s home, requiring extensive travel and/or time away from the worker’s family during recovery, is not suitable under the law. You should contact an attorney if you cannot come to an agreement with your employer about suitable light duty work.
A Workers’ Compensation Attorney Is Your Advocate
If you are having trouble figuring out the workers’ compensation system or negotiating reasonable light duty work arrangements with your employer, you should contact an attorney. The Platt Law Firm has the experience and skill to be your advocate and partner through your recovery process, including evaluating any light duty assignments you may be offered. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.