If you sustain a work injury in Pennsylvania, a panel doctor approved by your employer may tell you not to return to work because your injuries do not permit it. A doctor may also give you a note with restrictions. In this case, your employer may offer you modified-duty work or light-duty work instead of giving you time off.
Light-duty work is a temporary work placement in a physically less-taxing job. This light-duty work continues until you are healed. Modified-duty work occurs when your employer changes your current work conditions or duties until you are healed, so your work meets the restrictions established by the physician.
What Is Considered Light-Duty Work?
Light-duty work options for injured workers can vary depending on the industry, but they can include:
- Completing paperwork
- Working in an office or at a desk
- Supervising work areas
- Monitoring cameras
- Reporting on work areas
- Maintenance of work equipment
Light-duty can be completely different from your usual work tasks, or it can be a modified version of them.
What Does It Mean to Be on Light-Duty After an Injury?
What exactly happens when you return to your employer to perform light-duty work? The good news is, many employees can return to their place of employment and perform light-duty work without a problem. Good employers will offer these modified work assignments in good faith, doing what they can to accommodate your needs and ensure you are safe in the workplace.
However, not every injured worker has a positive experience when they return to light-duty work. For example, in Pennsylvania, it’s legal for employers to give their injured employees “no duty” positions. In these job assignments, employees will stand or sit in a certain spot with no work to do. If you’re dealing with harassment from your employer as an injured worker, speak with an attorney about your rights.
What You Should Know About Light-Duty Work
What do you need to know about light-duty work?
1. You May Get Paid the Same Amount or Less for Light-Duty Work
Your workers’ compensation payments may be affected if you accept a light-duty job. The amount of your workers’ compensation lost wages will depend on whether you are paid the same or less for your light-duty work. If you are paid the same as what you made prior to your injury, then you will no longer receive payments for lost wages.
If you are paid less than you were prior to your injury, you’ll receive payments for lost wages as partial disability benefits. In Pennsylvania, this amount is calculated by first subtracting your current wages from your wages prior to your injury. Two-thirds of that amount is what your partial disability payment will be.
For example, if your weekly pay before your injury was $400, and your weekly pay for light-duty work is $250, the difference is $150, and your partial disability payment will be $100.
- $400 minus $250 equals $150
- $150 times two-thirds is $100
You can receive a partial disability award for a maximum of 500 weeks.
2. You Can Turn Down Light-Duty Work
If you are offered light-duty work, you may consider turning it down if the job is not within your medical work restrictions. Why would you want to go back to work with an injury, even if the work will be less physically demanding? Many of us would rather take the appropriate amount of time to focus on recovering from the work injury.
Though you may be tempted to turn down light-duty work, you may want to weigh your options carefully. Turning down an offer of light-duty work can put your workers’ comp benefits at risk. Employers in Pennsylvania have the right to offer qualifying injured employees modified duty work. This often includes work assignments that are light-duty or alternative work programs.
If you turn down the light-duty work that your employer has made available to you, your employer can then file what is known as a Suspension or Modification Petition. If the modified work is determined by a workers’ compensation judge to be within your physical capabilities, you may lose your workers’ compensation benefits.
If you believe you’re unable to return to work, see your personal doctor. If your doctor provides a contradicting opinion to your employer’s doctor and don’t believe you should return to work — even to a light-duty assignment — then you may have a case and be able to turn down the light-duty job.
When you receive an offer for light-duty work from your employer, respond promptly. Call and speak to your employer about the work assignment. You can also consult with an attorney about questions you may have pertaining to the job assignment and your rights as an injured worker.
3. A Doctor Must Clear You for Light-Duty Work First
A job offer for light-duty work is often based on the opinion of a doctor chosen by your employer. Doctors chosen by employers can be biased in their opinions and reports and may provide a very different opinion from your personal doctor. The doctor’s report may include a diagnosis of your injuries and your physical capabilities, so your employer can take these into account when establishing your light-duty work restrictions.
If a physician selected by your employer clears you for light-duty work, your employer may offer you a job assignment. If this doctor doesn’t clear you for light-duty work, however, you won’t need to return to work yet, and you can continue receiving your workers’ compensation benefits while you recover.
4. An Employer Can File Paperwork to Suspend Your Benefits If You Refuse to Return to Work
An employer cannot penalize you by not reinstating your original job. However, if you’re cleared to return to light-duty work, and you refuse, then your employer may choose to file a petition to terminate, modify or suspend your workers’ comp benefits.
You’ll continue receiving your benefits after your employer files this petition until a judge determines in a hearing whether your benefits should be continued, modified, suspended or terminated.
5. Your Employer Is Not Obligated to Have Light-Duty Work
Under Pennsylvania law, if an employer has a job vacancy that can be performed by an injured employee, they must offer this job to the employee. However, employers in Pennsylvania aren’t legally required to have light-duty work available for injured workers.
Instead, you may receive a notice about an available position at a charitable organization. Organizations like Goodwill are typically in need of more workers, and they aren’t likely to turn down an employee who is being paid by another employer’s insurance company.
If your employer doesn’t offer a light-duty work option, you’ll continue receiving your workers’ compensation benefits.
6. You May Be Fired After Being Put on Light-Duty Work
If your employer offers you light-duty work after your injury, and you accept, your employer may decide to fire you anyway. To justify your termination, they may claim you cannot perform your job well, the company is downsizing, you broke a company rule or they only intended to provide the light-duty work temporarily. Your employer may even be looking for a reason to fire you, so if you do return to light-duty work, make sure you show up to work on time and follow all of the company’s rules and policies.
If your employer lays you off after putting you on light-duty work, you’ll still continue receiving your workers’ comp benefits. Though If you’re fired for a good reason, such as for breaking a rule or showing up late, then this may jeopardize your workers’ comp case.
7. You Should Consult With an Attorney
Do you have questions or concerns about returning to light-duty work or how light-duty work may affect your workers’ compensation benefits? If you have concerns about your work restrictions or your light-duty work hours, consult a workers’ comp attorney. At Frommer D’Amico, we will provide you with a free consultation and offer advice about your workers’ comp claim and how to proceed with a light-duty work offer.
If you’re not sure whether you have a case or if you have concerns about light-duty work and your workers’ comp benefits, reaching out to an attorney is the best course of action.
Get a Free Consultation at Frommer D’Amico
If you have any concerns about the work you are being asked to do, your workers’ comp benefits or how quickly you are being asked to return to work, contact us at Frommer D’Amico for a free consultation. You can also call us at 717-400-1000.
Our certified workers’ compensation experts offer personalized attention to your case, and we do not charge case management fees if your case is not before the courts, which saves you money.