When you’ve been injured on the job, workers’ compensation benefits are supposed to be there for you. Your employer and their insurer, however, want you to get back to work as soon as possible since that’s the best way to limit their costs.
To that end, you may be offered “light duty” work, with or without additional reasonable accommodations. Light duty work is often presented as a helpful way to allow injured workers to transition back into the workforce while still healing.
3 common problems with light-duty work
Under the rules for workers’ compensation, you can’t decline the offer if your doctor releases you to do the work without losing your benefits, but light-duty work can have a lot of pitfalls. Some of the biggest problems injured workers encounter include:
- “Light-duty” work that isn’t exactly light: Just because a job is less physically demanding than your usual work doesn’t make it light duty – and there’s no guarantee that you can do the job without hurting yourself further. For example, if you’re given a desk job instead of your usual manual labor work because of a back injury, eight hours a day in a hard chair can still cause you significant pain and aggravate your condition.
- Jobs that you’re not qualified to do: If you have always done physical work with your hands, putting you on a desk job that’s beyond your skills and training isn’t fair – but employers sometimes do it anyhow. For example, if you’re given clerical work to do and told to fill out spreadsheets but you have no software training, that can feel like an impossible position.
- Jobs that are clearly made up: it’s also not unusual for employers to invent light-duty job assignments that are incredibly tedious, like sorting loose screws into jars or taking paperclips out of documents before they’re shredded.
Oftentimes, these maneuvers are designed to frustrate an injured worker so that they feel pressured to either quit or return to their previous job sooner than they’re ready. If this happens to you, learning more about your options under the law can help you fight back.