A common issue in workers’ compensation cases involves work restrictions and light-duty positions. Often, when a worker is injured, they receive work restrictions from their doctor that do not allow them to perform all aspects of their job. An employer often attempts to accommodate these work restrictions by offering a light-duty job.
If an injured worker is being offered a light-duty role, they must consider this job offer. If the injured worker denies the job, it can affect their workers’ compensation benefits. An injured worker is not required to accept any job offer, though.
Today, we’ll bring some clarity to the topic of light-duty jobs for injured workers so that you can make an informed decision.
What is a Light Duty Job Offer?
Light-duty work refers to a modified duty or alternative job role that injured workers can perform while they recover. These roles are adjusted to be less physically strenuous or demanding compared to the employee’s original position, considering the worker’s current health condition. They can also be temporary or permanent work, depending on the extent of the workplace injuries.
The primary goal of light-duty jobs is to reintegrate the injured worker back into the workplace in a capacity that their current health status allows. It provides a means for employees to stay engaged, maintain their skills, and contribute to the workplace while they recover.
Importantly, accepting suitable light-duty work can enable employees to mitigate lost income, potentially in combination with their workers’ compensation or disability benefits.
Common Examples of Light-Duty Jobs
When employers develop light-duty jobs for injured workers, the nature of the work can vary depending on the extent of the work restrictions, the roles available at their job sites, and the nature of the old job duties.
From there, they can find a modified duty or transitional role that allows the employee to continue working.
In other cases, a work injury only requires reasonable accommodations for the person to continue doing their old job.
Let’s explore these examples of light-duty jobs in more detail:
Moving to a New Role
Sometimes, an injured worker’s workplace injury may prevent them from performing their original duties, even in a modified form. In these cases, an employer may offer employees a different role that aligns with their physical capabilities.
For example, a construction worker who typically performs physically demanding tasks, such as lifting heavy materials, may be unable to do so due to a back injury.
In this case, the employer might offer them a light-duty role in site supervision or equipment inventory management.
In retail, a sales associate who usually stands for long periods may not be able to do so following a leg injury. Instead, the employer might assign them to answering phones at a desk in the customer service department.
Modified Job Duties
In some cases, the injured employee can continue in their original role but with modifications to accommodate their reduced capacity. This often involves removing or adjusting the tasks or jobs that the worker is currently unable to perform.
Consider a warehouse worker with a lifting restriction due to a shoulder injury. Their employer could offer modified work that excludes heavy lifting and allow them to focus instead on tasks like managing inventory data or assisting in coordinating warehouse operations.
This temporary work option allows injured employees to return to work and gradually return to their pre-injury regular job duties as their health improves or they reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). Typically, this involves the person working shorter hours.
For example, a nurse who has been off work due to surgery could return to work on a temporarily limited schedule, gradually increasing hours as their recovery progresses. Alternatively, they might start with less physically demanding duties, such as patient charting or consulting, before resuming hands-on patient care.
Accommodated work involves modifying the work environment or tools to suit workers’ physical restrictions while performing their normal job duties. Examples of reasonable accommodations could be ergonomic adjustments to their job site, using assistive devices, or providing specialized equipment.
For example, an office worker with a back injury might be provided with an ergonomic chair, a standing desk, or specialized computer equipment to help them comfortably perform important tasks in their job.
The Minnesota Workers Compensation Laws and Light Duty Job Offers
Minnesota state laws require all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance or be self-insured.
Employees who suffer a work-related injury or illness are eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim. The benefits of workers comp can include payment for medical expenses, wage loss benefits, compensation for permanent impairment, and vocational rehabilitation services if the worker can’t return to their previous job.
Specific Provisions Regarding Light Duty Jobs Under Minnesota Law
Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws have specific provisions concerning light-duty job offers.
Suppose an employer offers a light-duty position that meets the worker’s light-duty work parameters set by their treating physician, and the worker refuses. In that case, they might jeopardize their workers comp claim wage loss benefits.
The law stipulates that the light-duty work must be reasonable and meet specific criteria. It should consider the employee’s health condition, be adequately documented and communicated, and the work proposed should be within the capabilities of the injured employee.
Procedure for Offering Light Duty Jobs by Employers
Employers work with treating physicians to develop an appropriate light-duty job offer. They need to document this offer adequately, outlining the nature of the job, the physical demands, working hours, and wages.
If the injured worker refuses the offer without good cause, this may affect their workers’ compensation benefits.
Working With Your QRC
Your Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant, commonly known as a QRC, is a valuable resource for facilitating the return to work process.
These professionals use their expertise in vocational rehabilitation to ensure the propriety of light-duty work offers, minimizing both lost wages for the worker and workers’ compensation costs for the employer.
Gathering Job Information
One of the initial steps a QRC takes in assessing the feasibility of light-duty work involves requesting a comprehensive job description, which helps them understand the tasks and duties that the worker performed in his or her regular job.
The QRC then uses this information alongside the medical restrictions given by the employee’s medical provider to determine if the employee can return to work in either their original position or in a modified light-duty role.
Conducting a Workplace Evaluation
To gain an in-depth understanding of the physical demands of the job and the specific conditions of the workplace, a QRC often undertakes a site visit.
This visit allows them to observe the real-life tasks, working conditions, and potential hazards within a business or job site, making it instrumental in assuring that a particular role meets their clients’ medical guidelines.
Recommending Appropriate Adjustments
After evaluating the medical status of the employee and the demands of the job, the QRC can recommend potential accommodations to the employer. These suggestions serve to create a bridge between the worker’s current physical capacity and the requirements of their job.
These recommendations help employers to develop a reasonable light-duty work program that respects the worker’s health limitations for a more successful return to work.
The Impact of Not Accepting a Light-Duty Job Offer
If the offer of light-duty work pays less than the worker’s previous job, they usually receive partial wage loss benefits. However, if the worker rejects the offer without a valid reason, they may lose these partial benefits.
Imagine a worker who has a work injury and can’t perform their usual job but can do some light-duty jobs or administrative office tasks. Their employer offers a light-duty role within these restrictions, but the worker refuses because they believe the job is beneath their skills.
In this case, their refusal to accept a suitable job offer could cause the employer/insurer to file a Notice of Intent to Discontinue (NOID) benefits.
In contrast, suppose the same worker is offered a light-duty job, but the role involves some lifting which contradicts their doctor’s restrictions.
If they decline this offer, they will likely continue to receive their benefits because the refusal is based on their medical provider’s advice regarding their physical limitations.
Strategies for Navigating Light Duty Job Offers
Accepting suitable light-duty work is often in the employee’s best interest. Doing so can provide income, maintain skills, and demonstrate their willingness to return to productive work.
However, they should only accept if the job aligns with their medical restrictions and they feel capable of performing the tasks.
The doctor’s role is crucial in challenging unreasonable light-duty job offers, as they provide the medical restrictions that guide the job’s physical demands. As such, they can also assist if there’s a dispute over the nature of the work by providing needed medical documentation and recommendations.
If negotiations with the employer fail, you might need to file an objection with the Department of Labor and Industry and seek legal advice.
Rights of the Employees
When offered a light-duty job, injured workers have the right to:
- Understand the nature of the job and how it fits within their medical restrictions.
- Seek advice from their treating physician about whether the job is suitable.
- Consult with their attorney or union representative, if applicable.
- Decline the offer if it doesn’t comply with their doctor’s restrictions.
Responsibilities of the Employers
Employers have specific responsibilities when offering workers light-duty work:
- Ensure the job is within the worker’s physical limitations.
- Provide a written offer detailing the role, hours, wages, and physical demands.
- Treat the injured employees fairly and without discrimination.
- Not force or coerce injured workers into accepting the job.
Always consult with your doctor before accepting light-duty job offers, ensure you understand the nature of the job and your rights, and do not hesitate to seek legal advice from a qualified workers’ comp attorney if you believe the job doesn’t align with your medical restrictions.