What You Need to Know About Light Duty Work Restrictions and Limitation After a Workplace Injury
If you or a loved one was injured on the job and is now facing a period of time away from work, as part of your recovery, your doctor may recommend some kind of light duty at work. However, employers are not always willing to accommodate these recommendations. They may even tell you that they will not allow any type of modified duties or accommodations under Virginia law, fearing that doing so will set a precedent for future workers’ compensation claims. But is this really true?
The Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt has successfully represented countless injured Virginia workers, helping to obtain work restrictions and recovering significant compensation for work injuries and lost wages. If you or a loved one suffered a job site injury or occupational illness, we invite you to call our office to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Virginia workers’ comp attorney. We represent injured workers on a contingency fee basis, meaning that we are only entitled to a fee if compensation is recovered on a client’s behalf.
We also encourage you to read the following article to learn more about how work restrictions and light duty impact workers’ compensation claims.
How Do I Get Work Restrictions Authorized by a Doctor After a Workplace Injury?
If you were injured on the job, you may be wondering what your next steps should be. One of the most important things to do is to consult with a physician about work restrictions, as such limitations can ensure that you are not overworking yourself and risking further injury as you recover.
In Virginia, it is vital to immediately seek medical treatment from a healthcare provider for any work injury or work-related illness. Further, it is advisable to find a physician who specializes in occupational medicine or works closely with occupational medicine specialists. This expertise can help a healthcare provider understand your specific needs (such as work restrictions) and how best to help you recover from a workplace injury.
Unfortunately, even after seeking medical treatment, return-to-work and light-duty issues are frequent areas of disagreement between injured workers, employers, insurers, third-party administrators (TPAs), and doctors. The outcome of disputes depends on the specific work restrictions given by a doctor; your health care providers’ opinions on whether or not those restrictions are reasonable; and whether there is evidence showing why those limitations were necessary in your case. This article explains how medical restrictions affect workers’ comp cases and provides guidance on negotiating return-to-work issues with medical providers and employers so as to not compromise benefits.
What Are Light Duty Work Restrictions and Limitations?
The term “light duty” refers to any work that is less strenuous than a worker’s usual job. Light duty can include activities like filing paperwork, answering phones, or performing data entry. Workers are often eligible for light duty after an injury because it allows them to remain on the payroll while recovering from their injuries.
Light duty restrictions are stipulations that dictate what activities can be performed during a shift. For example, if an individual suffers a back injury, they may be ordered not to lift more than twenty pounds. If an employee violates their light-duty restrictions and is hurt again, then they may not be eligible for compensation benefits through workers’ comp insurance (this is called a “non-compensable injury”).
Employers often have the final say about whether or not an employee is fit for light duty work; however, as an experienced Virginia workers’ compensation attorney, Mark Hurt can listen to the facts of your case, evaluate whether your employer has complied with Virginia workers’ compensation law, and zealously advocate for the accommodations and full compensation you rightfully deserve.
What Is a Medical Work Restriction?
A medical restriction is a written statement from a treating physician that describes the limitations an injured worker has suffered due to a work injury or occupational disease. A work restriction letter can be provided by any healthcare provider who treats a workplace injury or occupational illness, including (but not limited to) primary physicians, surgeons, specialists, pain management doctors, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and cardiologists.
What is Light Duty under Virginia Workers’ Compensation?
When an individual sustains a workplace injury, their employer may offer light duty work, also referred to as:
- modified duty,
- selective employment,
- transitional work, or
- temporary alternative assignment.
This can be a great benefit for both parties, as it allows workers to get paid to recover from an injury, and the company obtains help with its staffing needs. But what exactly is “light duty”?
In Virginia, a light-duty job consists of work that is mentally or physically less demanding than the job performed before the injury. An employee who has suffered a compensable injury may be offered “reasonable accommodations” so they can continue working while recovering from their injury.
These accommodations may include the following:
- A modified job description that requires less physical exertion or mental stress;
- Ability to use crutches, wheelchairs, canes, etc.;
- Exemption from tasks that require manual dexterity;
- An opportunity for telecommuting (working remotely);
- Temporary reassignment to another position within the same department or at another location nearby if no other jobs are available; or
- How many days or hours an employee can work (in general).
Under Virginia workers’ compensation law, a worker is restricted to light duty when they are unable to perform each task associated with their regular position due to a workplace injury.
How Do I Prove That I Have Work Restrictions Resulting from a Workplace Injury in Virginia?
When filing a claim for workers’ compensation, it is important to provide medical evidence of any work restrictions. As such, it is critical for injured workers to ask their doctor (or other licensed medical professionals) for written documentation of the debilitating condition and how it affects the individual’s ability to work.
Physicians are not experts on return-to-work issues, and many are uncomfortable making determinations on whether employees can return to their occupations with job restrictions. While certain healthcare providers (such as orthopedic physicians who regularly treat workers’ compensation patients) are proficient in providing work restrictions, many others are not.
As an experienced Virginia workers’ compensation law firm, we recommend asking a physician or nurse practitioner for a written letter describing any work restrictions at each visit. Then, we advise clients to make two copies of the written documentation: one for the employer and one for their Virginia workers’ comp attorney.
Are Work Restrictions Important in A Virginia Workers’ Compensation Case?
Work restrictions are critical in a Virginia workers’ compensation case, as they can help injured workers get back to work quicker and get better faster. Further, medical restrictions impact an individual’s rights and responsibilities under Virginia workers’ compensation law and what must be proven to recover or keep wage loss benefits. For example, work restrictions often serve as the basis for temporary total disability and temporary partial disability payments.
When submitting a workers’ compensation claim seeking compensation for missed work, it is vital to include medical documentation detailing work restrictions. Without such medical evidence from a doctor or nurse practitioner stating that an injured worker has job restrictions because of a workplace accident, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission is unlikely to award cash benefits.
Even though work restrictions are vital to a Virginia workers’ compensation case, many doctors hesitate to give patients work restrictions for three primary reasons:
- most physicians have not received training in assessing a patient’s ability to work after a serious injury;
- some doctors want to avoid participating in litigation; and
- a physician may not be familiar with the Virginia workers’ compensation claims process and its requirements.
As an experienced work restriction lawyer and light duty attorney, Mark Hurt can help compile documentation that will increase the likelihood of securing full and fair workers’ compensation wage replacement benefits.
What Are Common Work Restrictions Related to Virginia Work Injuries?
Work restrictions can cover a variety of tasks and are mostly dictated by the type of injury from which an employee is suffering and the type of work he or she performs. The following are several common work restrictions related to work injuries:
- No lifting more than 20 pounds (This includes all types of lifting, including picking up items from the floor, pulling or pushing heavy objects, carrying boxes on one’s shoulder, etc.);
- No climbing ladders or scaffolding;
- No working in extreme temperatures (hot or cold);
- Avoid standing or walking for extended periods;
- Avoid reaching over shoulder level; and
- Avoid high-stress or high-anxiety situations.
If you were given work restrictions by a treating physician but are facing opposition from an employer, we invite you to call The Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt today to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your rights and how we can help.
Does A Virginia Employer Have to Offer Light Duty Work for a Job Site Injury or Illness?
There are no federal laws requiring employers to offer light duty work. However, some state and federal laws require employers to provide modified work in certain situations. For example, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations if a work injury substantially limits an individual from performing one or more major life activities. As another example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to twelve weeks of job security (although this leave may be unpaid).
Virginia employers who refuse to offer light duty work are under an obligation to offer vocational rehabilitation. As such, if an individual suffers a compensable injury and the employer is unable or unwilling to offer light duty work restrictions, the injured employee has the right to ask for vocational rehabilitation services at the employer’s expense.
Do I Have to Seek Light Duty Work While Collection Workers’ Compensation Benefits in Virginia?
If an injured worker is under an open award, which means they have an Award Letter providing ongoing wage loss benefits, then he or she does not have to look for a light duty job if they are released from being totally disabled to partially disabled with work restrictions. Conversely, if an individual does not have an open award and their claim is pending, then they will need to seek light duty work in accordance with the job search guidelines provided by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Can I Refuse Light Duty at Work and Still Retain My Workers’ Compensation Benefits in Virginia?
Whether or not you can refuse a light duty job offer from an employer and continue to receive workers’ comp benefits depends on whether any part of that job falls outside of your work restrictions and/or whether your treating physician has signed off on the light duty job offer.
The general rule is that if any part of that job falls outside of the work restrictions and/or if a treating physician has not signed off on a specific position within those restrictions as safe for someone with those injuries/conditions (including musculoskeletal disorders), then there is no obligation on the part of either party to offer or refuse light duty work.
Simply stated, employers cannot force employees into accepting jobs they cannot perform safely due to injury, and injured workers do not have legal obligations where there hasn’t been adequate consideration given towards their health care needs before placing them into positions where they could possibly suffer further injury due primarily towards negligence on behalf.
However, if a doctor clears an individual to return to an available light duty job or if the job is clearly within a set of work restrictions, then a workers’ compensation claimant can risk losing their benefits by refusing a light duty job offer.
Can My Employer Pay Me Less If I Return to Work on Light Duty?
While the Workers Compensation Act does not require a Virginia employer to pay regular wages if an individual returns to a light duty job, some employers will do so. But others will pay a lower wage because a worker is not performing the same tasks they were performing at the time of the injury.
If this happens and a worker is earning less in a light duty job than before because it pays a lower salary or fewer hours are being worked, then the individual may be eligible for temporary partial disability benefits (TPDB). These cash benefits are paid at two-thirds of the difference between the pre-injury average weekly wage and post-injury average weekly wage.
If A Physician Removes Work Restrictions, Does a Virginia Employer Have to Reinstate A Worker’s Regular Position?
If a physician removes work restrictions, the employer is not required to reinstate a worker’s position under the Workers’ Compensation Act. However, if you believe that your employer has discriminated against you because of your compensation status or has terminated your employment due to filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, then contact an employment lawyer immediately. You may be eligible to pursue a labor or employment law claim while receiving workers comp benefits.
Can A Light Duty Release Affect the Value of a Workers’ Compensation Settlement or Benefits?
Light duty may affect the value of your workers’ compensation settlement or benefits in several ways:
- If you are released to light duty work before receiving an Award Letter from the Workers Compensation Commission (WCC), then your employer and its insurer may decide not to offer an Award Agreement form right away, even if they know an injury is covered by law. This can delay getting compensation for injuries suffered at work, increasing costs and reducing benefits for medical care related to those injuries.
- If an injured employee fails to conduct a good faith job search that the WCC considers adequate, then even if there is no dispute over whether or not a worker is unable to perform a pre-injury job because of being hurt at work, the employer might deny any request for additional compensation.
- Generally, the more job restrictions that an injured worker has, the more difficult it will be for an employer to find a light duty position that reasonably accommodates those restrictions. This typically increases the time an individual may be out of work, increasing the value of a claim.
Schedule A Free Consultation with an Experienced Virginia Workers’ Comp Lawyer to Learn More About How Light Duty and Work Restrictions Can Affect Your Workers’ Compensation Claims.
If you are injured at work, you may be entitled to compensation. While some workplace injuries are minor enough to be treated with first aid, others will require medical care and time off from work. If your employer offers light duty or other restrictions as part of their workers’ compensation policy, it is vital that you understand how this might affect your claim.
An experienced Virginia workers’ comp law firm, we can help ensure that all of the details surrounding your injury have been properly documented by your employer and insurance company (if applicable). We can also negotiate with the parties on your behalf so that any potential settlement reflects the extent of both short-term and long-term impacts from the accident.
If you have questions about how light duty work restrictions may affect your (or a loved one’s) claim, schedule a free consultation with experienced Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Mark Hurt.