How Does Light Duty Work Restrictions Affect Workers’ Compensation?

4 mins reading time

Workers’ compensation law requires employers in New York to obtain insurance to cover and protect all employees––whether you are a part-time or full-time employee––when injured on the job. After filing a successful workers’ compensation claim, you will receive specific benefits per your injury and circumstances. In some workers’ compensation cases, your doctor may allow you to work either immediately or at a later date once you have recovered sufficiently. 

Your ability to work your regular job, however, may be restricted to light duty work. An employer is not required to offer light duty work, but if it has a position available, it can offer it to you. An employer may also create a temporary light duty work position. Keep in mind, too, that your employer is not required to keep your original job open for you (unless you qualify under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and if so, the position must be protected up to 12 weeks). Without job protection, the offer of light duty work is important, but it will affect your workers’ comp benefits. You need to understand what the impact will be so that you can plan accordingly. It is, after all, your health and finances at stake. 

As you can see, there are many factors to consider. An experienced workers’ comp attorney in New York City can help you understand all the factors and the consequences of each. Our team of Long Island workers’ comp lawyers at Terry Katz & Associates know the effect light duty work or modified duty work has on workers’ comp benefits and our clients. With more than 30 years of experience and the insights and knowledge that flow from that experience, we have been fighting for the rights and interests of injured workers in and around New York City. One thing we know is this: informed injured workers make better legal, health, and financial decisions for themselves and their families. We are here to help you understand and make those decisions. 

To learn more, contact us toll free at 888-488-7459 or fill out a free case evaluation form today. At Terry Katz & Associates, we offer free lawyer consultations, so there are no immediate costs to you to get the answers you need right now. 

What is Considered Light Work Duties While on Workers’ Comp?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), light duty typically means “temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less demanding than normal job duties.” The EEOC recognizes that employers may place a slightly different meaning to it:

  • A way to excuse an employee from performing certain job duties due to an impairment;
  • A position with less physically or mentally demanding job functions created specifically for employees who cannot perform their normal job duties; or
  • Any sedentary or less physically or mentally demanding job.

Light duty, regardless of how exactly it is defined by the employer, includes two specific elements: (1) an inability to perform your regular job description; and (2) medical restrictions requiring less physically or mentally demanding work. It’s a way for the employer to modify a position so that you can return to work and, as such, it can be a component of an injured worker’s return to work program. Offering light duty work for employees who can return to work helps employers control workers’ compensation costs. For the employee who is worried about his or her job, it helps them get a foot back in the door without compromising health. 

After an examination and any related medical treatment, your primary treating physician determines when/if you are able to work and to what capacity. In a report provided to your employer, your doctor will list applicable restrictions. 

Light duty restrictions fall under one or all of three categories:

  1. Sedentary restrictions, which are positions that involve sitting for long periods with limited walking, standing, and lifting (e.g., items of up to 10 pounds);
  2. Lifting restrictions, which involve lifting items up to 20 pounds or carrying objects up to 10 pounds or so; and
  3. One-handed restrictions, which refers to work using one hand.

These three types of restrictions may be broken down more specifically when provided to the employer.

Examples of Specific Light Duty Work Restrictions

  • Must take frequent breaks.
  • No squatting or kneeling.
  • No vigorous activity like pulling, climbing, running, jumping, etc.
  • No prolonged standing.
  • No prolonged walking.
  • No heavy lifting or carrying objects weighing 20 pounds or more. 
  • No more than 20 minutes of driving.
  • No more than working four hours a day in an eight-day workday.
  • No repetitive bending or wrist movement.

There are many different job descriptions that could accommodate light duty work. Examples of these types of positions and/or job-related tasks as they fit under each restriction category are provided below.

Examples of Job Functions for Sedentary Restrictions

  • Doing office work, like data entry, filing, reviewing invoices, or preparing timesheets
  • Mowing lawn with a riding mower
  • Taking fleet vehicles through a car wash or in for oil changes or maintenance
  • Training new employees
  • Taking inventory, supervising, monitoring
  • Reviewing, writing, or researching
  • Cleaning computers or office space
  • Painting

Examples of Job Functions for Lifting Restrictions

  • Power washing
  • Maintaining business property (e.g., landscaping)
  • Conducting safety audits
  • Light housekeeping or cleaning
  • Washing and disinfecting
  • Collecting and disposing of trash, chemicals, etc.
  • Using some machinery or maintaining equipment so long as in compliance with restrictions (e.g., if the doctor restricts the employee from standing longer than 30 minutes at a time, the light duty work must accommodate this restriction or else it may not be the right work for the injured worker)

Examples of Job Functions for One-Handed Restrictions

  • Light cleaning duties, like dusting or wiping down computers
  • Light office work, like shredding
  • Making or answering phone calls (e.g., sales, ordering supplies)

As you can see, even when restrictions apply, there are a number of job functions an injured employee could perform if (1) the doctor allows it; and (2) the employer can create an adequate light duty position.

Will My Workers’ Compensation Benefits be Reduced While on Light Duty Work?

Your workers’ compensation benefits will be affected by light duty work. How it’s affected depends on many factors, like:

  • How much you earned prior to the workplace injury;
  • How much you are able to work (part-time or full-time);
  • Whether you have a total or partial disability; and, among other factors,
  • Whether any disability is temporary or permanent.

There are a few basic ways workers’ comp benefits will be affected, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case:

  1. You may qualify for what’s known as “reduced earnings”;
  2. You may qualify for what’s known as “intermittent lost time”; or
  3. You may not qualify for any additional workers’ comp payments.

Reduced Earning

If your new pay rate is lower than what it was before the on-the-job injury and it’s because of the disability, you can get part of your workers’ comp benefits to make up for the change in pay rate. This is known as reduced earnings.

Most light duty work carries a lower pay rate. To calculate the amount of reduced earning to which you are entitled.

  • take the average weekly earnings before the work injury date (pre-injury wages);
  • take the average weekly earnings after the work injury date (post-injury wages);
  • subtract the post-earning wages from the pre-injury wages;
  • multiply the difference by two-thirds.

The result is the maximum benefit you can receive. For example, if pre-injury wages is $2,000, and post-injury wages is $1,000, you could receive up to approximately $667 in reduced earnings.

Intermittent Lost Time

Sometimes, an injured employee who has returned to work may be absent from time to time because of the work-related injury. The worker can receive workers’ comp benefits for this time off, but the worker must have medical evidence to support the reason for the time off. Diligent record-keeping will save you time and money when/if you need off of work after taking on light duty work or other work.

Termination of Workers’ Comp Payments

Though most light duty work carries a lower pay rate, not all of it will. If you make the same or more than you did before the injury, you likely will not receive reduced earnings. You may, however, benefit from intermittent lost time.

Medical Treatment & Returning to Work

What won’t be affected is medical treatment you still need while taking on a light duty assignment. Light duty work is a way to return to work when you can perform certain tasks. If you are still undergoing treatment, you will continue with it while working. Medical treatment and transportation will be paid or reimbursed. 

Can I Refuse to Take a Light Duty Job While on Workers’ Comp?

When a doctor releases you to return to work even with restrictions, typically you cannot refuse without ramifications a job offer of light duty work even if it comes with less money than you had been making. If you can work but refuse an offer, the most significant ramification is a suspension of benefits. In addition to the suspension, you could also risk future benefits, like vocational retraining or loss of earning capacity.

Refusal is within your right if the work offered is outside your physical or mental limitations as dictated by your doctor. In some cases, you may be able to refuse without suspension of benefits when the employment is unreasonable. For example, it requires you to travel an unreasonable distance to perform the work. The employer and the workers’ comp insurance company may challenge your refusal, though, so it’s always important to speak to a workers’ compensation lawyer in New York City before you make a decision that could have dire consequences on your finances and health. An attorney-client relationship is unique and confidential. The legal advice you receive can make the difference in your physical, mental, and financial health.

Call Now to Speak to Workers’ Compensation Lawyer at Terry Katz & Associates

Whether you are ready to return to work or your doctor has released you to work, make sure you know exactly what your mental or physical limitations are, if any. Your doctor must be clear about any restrictions so that when a position, including light-duty work, if offered, you can accept it without consequence. 

We at Terry Katz & Associates know that making these types of decisions about personal injury, workers’ comp, and disability benefits can be confusing and exhausting, especially while we are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). It’s always in your best interest to seek a free evaluation of your workers’ comp case. Contact our law firm near Long Island, New York at 888-488-7459 for a free consultation with one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys today.

Terry Katz, Esq.

Terry Katz, Esq., the founding Member of the firm, handles all aspects of Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability cases.

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