In 2019, a whopping 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries occurred in the US (the same as in 2018). Of these, 888,220 job-related incidents led to at least one missed workday. However, the median number of days away from work was eight days.
If you become one of these injured workers, you may be able to return to “light duty” work.
What is light duty exactly, though, and how can it affect your earning potential? Is it even legal for employers to modify your work responsibilities and income?
We’ll answer all these questions in this guide, so be sure to read on.
What Is Light Duty Restriction at Work?
Also known as “modified duty,” light duty work is often an alteration of an employee’s original job. It takes into account an injured or recovering worker’s current health status. It serves as a workaround for these employees to get back to work without putting their health at more risk.
What Can Employees Do on Light Duty?
In many cases, light duty work restrictions are jobs with “less” physical demands. They can also take the form of shorter work hours or adjusted job deadlines. Employers may also change the worker’s schedule itself, say from a night job to a day one.
Let’s say your original job was to load, unload, and take inventories of cargo. However, carrying all those heavy goods resulted in a back injury. For this reason, your workers’ compensation doctor issued a modified duty order.
Your employer may then allow you to go back to work but limit your job to just taking inventories. Your supervisor may also place you on more admin or office tasks to help reduce strain on your back.
Are All Employers Required to Provide Light Duty?
No, so long as the worker doesn’t have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Otherwise, employers must offer reasonable job accommodations. Such “accommodations” may include light-duty provisions.
ADA-defined disabilities include impairments that cause a substantial limitation to major life activities. These can be physical or mental disabilities or both. A person can have a disability prior to getting hired, or it can result from a job-related injury or illness.
Multiple sclerosis, which affects one million Americans, is an ADA-defined disability. Muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, missing limbs are part of the list too. The same goes for major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Happens to Workers Without ADA-Defined Disabilities?
Workers’ compensation provides injured workers the right to continued pay. The “continuation of pay” (COP) benefits last for up to 45 calendar days. During this time, injured workers should receive their normal salary, even if they don’t go to work.
The above applies to workers who get injured but don’t meet ADA’s definition of “disability.”
Some workers in Texas may not receive COP benefits, either. That’s because the Lone Star State is the only state wherein worker’s comp isn’t mandatory. Throughout the country, though, worker’s comp covers 140 million workers.
In any case, COP-covered employees receive their full salary even if they’re on light duty. The COP portion of the policy makes up for whatever gets deducted from the worker’s salary. So, even if an employer reduces a worker’s pay due to job modifications, the employee still earns 100%.
What Happens After Exhausting COP Benefits?
At this point, employers have the right to choose to offer temporary light work duty. Meaning, employers may decide not to assign them to modified work. Again, this only applies to workers without an ADA-defined disability.
The good news is that many employers do choose to offer light-duty restrictions. According to a post by Light Duty Pathway, this helps employers mitigate the cost of lost wages. Moreover, it helps businesses retain some level of productivity.
Companies also benefit from light-duty provisions because these can help reduce employee turnover. After all, hiring a new worker for an entry-level job can cost up to 50% more than retaining an existing employee. This goes up to 125% for mid-level workers.
Is It a Good Idea to Accept Light Duty Modifications?
Yes, so long as it accommodates your doctor’s medical restrictions. Otherwise, your employer may ask a worker’s comp judge to limit or terminate your benefits. So, not accepting may put your entire salary and even employment at risk.
On the other end, you don’t have to accept any light-duty offer that goes beyond what your health can take. If you believe that the modified job is too much, be sure to talk to your doctor! Your physician will assess whether your employer’s offer is safe for you.
Also, keep in mind that you can go back to your normal work as soon as you recover. While this may take time, your light-duty job still gives you a way to make a living. Once you’ve fully healed, your employer can restore your original position (and salary).
Moreover, employers can fire workers who still can’t work despite reasonable accommodations. So, not accepting an appropriate light-duty job offer may result in the loss of your job. From here, it can take an average of five months for you to find new work.
Take It Slow at Work With Modified Duty
There you have it, the ultimate guide that addresses your question, “What is light duty?” Now, you know that it benefits not only your employer but also you and your earning potential. With modified duty, you can still make a living without compromising your recovery.
Just be sure that the offer doesn’t exceed your doctor’s medical restrictions. If you’re uncertain, don’t hesitate to speak to your worker’s comp physician.
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