If you practice workers’ compensation law and represent injured workers, then it will not take long before you need to advise a client on light duty.
It becomes the same story every time. The worker suffers an injury while working. Someone from the employer tells the worker to seek treatment from the “company doctor” or some other physician that the workers’ compensation insurance company selects. Often before the cast comes off, or the scan results come back, or a specialist is consulted, the first doctor that the injured worker sees sends the worker back to the job on a “light duty” basis. A couple of things about light duty:
- Why does the employer want someone back on the job that cannot perform all of the normal job tasks because of their limitations? Often, it is not the employer that wants the injured worker back on the job. It is the insurance company. Also, from the employer’s point of view, paying the injured worker for some work is better than the insurance company paying benefits and making the employer’s insurance premiums increase.
- Most physicians that assign light duty restrictions to their patient have absolutely no idea what the injured worker is expected to do while performing their normal job duties. Physicians all too often feel that they are doing their patient good allowing them to return to do what they can. The problem, of course, is when the employer and injured worker disagree on whether the light duty job falls within the physician’s light duty restrictions.
- NC workers’ compensation law changed in 2011 so that physicians are supposed to review and approve a light duty job description before the injured worker returns to work. Rather than just assigning restrictions, physicians should be reviewing what the employer might have available for the injured worker and reviewing the position’s duties to determine suitability. This protection for the injured worker does not happen very often, but every injured worker facing light duty should demand that a job description be provided for any offered light duty position.
I wanted to end this post on a positive note and provide an anecdote about a physician that has no tolerance for employer nonsense. Over the years, I have seen where employers move a light duty worker into the company’s industrial freezer to “take inventory” all day long. I have seen employer place their light duty worker outside in the 90 degree heat to sit without shade. I have seen where the employer uses the company security cameras to tape the worker hoping they make a mistake. The employers will not mind if the injured worker just quits because their argument against paying benefits for out of work time is solid – the injured worker refused light duty when it was made available.
Recently on one of our cases an employer brought back an injured worker with restrictions of “sit down work only” to a light duty job. The problem for the worker is that the employer provided a table that required the worker to stand. The employer thought it would be funny to provide a chair low to the ground rather than a stool that worked with the table. With the help of Megan Callahan, our client took a picture of the predicament and showed his doctor. The doctor became furious and wrote the injured worker out of work completely – a result that allows our client time to heal and recover.