Please Call One of Our board-certified Worker's compensation Specialists For a Free Consultation (833) 444-4127

Cardinal Law Partners.

Please Call One of Our board-certified Worker's compensation Specialists For a Free Consultation (833) 444-4127

The Dark Side Of Light Duty Work After Workplace Injuries, Raleigh North CarolinaThis article examines the use of light duty work by employers and insurance companies after a workplace injury. It discusses…

  • What light duty work is and how employers can abuse it during workers’ compensation cases,
  • What the employer and employees’ rights are when it comes to returning to work, and
  • The possible impact of light work duties on your workplace injury compensation case.

What Is Light Duty Work?

Once an injured worker has received some medical treatment, in addition to medication, physical therapy, or even surgery, doctors will often try to make a patient feel better by helping them return to work, though often with modified activity levels or requirements.

If someone was previously lifting 50 pounds every day at work, someone with a back injury would not be able to go back to such work right away. Instead, doctors will modify the patient’s activity with work restrictions and allow the injured worker to go back to work only if both the worker and employer are going to follow the restrictions and limitations. This is often called light work.

It is expected that the employer will be able to find some of this light work and offer it. Indeed, many employers are interested in bringing injured workers back so they can gradually build up their strength and be somewhat useful and not sit at home doing nothing while they recover.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for all employers, and some will use light work far more perniciously.

Why Might An Employer Offer Light Work Duty To An Injured Employee?

Unfortunately, not all employers are so benevolent, and many use “light-duty” work to really make life difficult for injured workers.

For example, if a doctor says someone cannot lift more than five pounds and they cannot do their normal job, they will be asked to come back to work and toil in a freezer doing inventory all day, or broil in the hot sun in the middle of summer at a table outside without any kind of cover. These light work assignments are given to make it as uncomfortable as possible so that the employee won’t want to do it and just quit.

Indeed, many workers often end up feeling like management is trying to goad them into some kind of reaction. They feel like they are being recorded or watched in the hope that they will do something wrong and can be fired, thus avoiding further workers’ compensation pay.

How Can Employers and Insurance Companies Use Light Duty Work To Their Advantage?

There are no official requirements for light duty, as it can describe basically any job that the employer offers within the doctor’s specific requirements. They are often made up or created to try to say that there is something light and easy that the injured worker can do. In reality, they are a way for insurance companies to avoid paying weekly benefits.

Light duty is rarely a good deal for injured workers but is almost always a good deal for insurance companies and employers. It gives them leverage over these injured workers and makes them believe that if they fail to do the light-duty job it will ruin their career, health, and their workers’ compensation case.

This inevitably leads to conflict. The worker will often say they do not want to go back to work for this “light duty” job or claim that it is not a real job and is instead retaliation. The employer, on the other hand, will argue that it is both real and necessary and that if you refuse to do it, they shouldn’t have to pay you workers’ compensation benefits. After all, they are offering a job within your restrictions and you are just refusing to do it.

Is It Possible To Avoid Painful Light Duty Work?

In theory, an injured worker does not have to go back to work light duty unless the treating doctor has reviewed a job description and signed off on it. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. When injured workers say they have light duty, the employer just wants the injured worker to come back to work. This places them both in a difficult position where the worker is refusing to work without an approved job description but still needs the compensation payments to continue. While the employer claims they have light-duty work for you, you are refusing to do it and as a result, they shouldn’t have to pay you, now or later. The resulting legal fights can take months to resolve.

Why Do Employers Not Have Their Employees’ Best Interest At Heart When Offering Light Duty?

Usually, employers are offering light-duty work because of their own self-interests and/or because of threats from the insurance company. Insurance companies would have to pay weekly checks to the injured worker if the employer doesn’t have light duty available.

If the injury is serious enough or the employer says they don’t have a light-duty job for you, the injured worker has to stay home. In such a case, you would be entitled to weekly benefits assuming your claim is accepted. As weeks go by and the insurance company is paying weekly checks, it is only a matter of time before your employer faces the possibility that their insurance rates are going to go up.

Ultimately, employers are offering light duty not because they need that injured worker back, or even because they want to help them. Instead, it is because if they do not pay that injured worker to come back and do light duty, the insurance company is going to have to pay. Then the insurance company is going to raise rates or be very upset that they have to pay the employee weekly, and it will negatively impact that employer’s relationship with their insurance company.

Can An Employer Force An Injured Employee To Return To Work On A Light Duty?

If you are injured, there is no law that can force you to go back to work. If a light duty is being offered and you believe you cannot do the job or that it is not in your best interest, perhaps from a health standpoint, your employer does not have the means to drag you back to work.

The danger you do face is the possibility that you will not be working and drawing a paycheck, and also that you will not be receiving any workers’ compensation benefit. This is a real financial danger for most injured workers, as they might be left in limbo until the Industrial Commission makes a decision. Even then, the Industrial Commission might decide it was wholly appropriate for the employer to offer the light-duty work they did and not pay benefits when you refused.

So while you are not legally obliged, you may very well be financially coerced, though there are some relevant rights to keep in mind.

What Are An Employee’s Rights When Faced With Such A Situation?

When an injured worker is being requested to return to work but refusing because they’re receiving benefits, or when an injured worker is out of work and feels like they should be receiving benefits, there are certain motions and applications that can be filed with the Industrial Commission to either start workers’ compensation benefits up or to terminate them.

There are different actions that both sides can take in front of the Industrial Commission to either start benefits or stop them. The judgment may end up coming down to what the doctors are recommending, what the doctors are allowing, and which side is acting most reasonably within the doctor’s recommendations.

Can An Employer’s Offer To Light Duty Work Affect An Injured Employee’s Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Every workers’ compensation case is different, and each has its own nuances. Generally, however, if an injured worker is back to work making money, the employer’s insurance company is going to argue that their case isn’t worth as much, because they are back at work. Especially if they are able to make the same type of paychecks they were making before their injury.

On the other hand, if the injured worker is receiving weekly checks and they are not able to return to work, they can make the argument that the injury is going to affect their long-term earning potential. If it impacts their ability to feed their family and pay their bills for years to come, then the wage loss that they have suffered now should be worth more when it comes to resolving a case with the insurance company through negotiation.

In either case, it is vital that you consult with a qualified and experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have been injured and are ever asked to return for “light work” by your employer.

For more information on Light Duty Work Offered To An Injured Worker, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (833) 444-4127 today.

Cardinal Law Partners.

Please Call One of Our board-certified
Worker's compensation Specialists
For a Free Consultation
(833) 444-4127

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