Temporary light duty is work offered when an injured worker is still receiving medical care. The rules for temporary and permanent light duty work are different. This article is about whether you must do whatever temporary light duty work your employer offers you after you get restrictions from your doctor following each doctor visit. The simple answer is yes, unless you want to risk losing your job, and losing some worker's compensation benefits.
Most large employers have light duty programs to return employees to work as soon as possible, even if the employer must create tasks. For many injured workers, getting paid for light duty is clearly preferable to sitting at home collecting compensation benefits. Unfortunately, some employers use their light duty program as a way to punish the employee for having a work accident. While a permanent light duty job cannot be demeaning, a temporary light duty job may consist of sitting outside on a chair and counting trucks entering an employer's work yard. Temporary light duty might be sorting silverware, folding towels, removing staples from documents, or even doing volunteer work on behalf of the employer at Opportunity Village.
Some adjusters and employers tell doctors on the insurer's provider list that no matter how many work restrictions the doctor gives an employee, the employer will be able to provide temporary light duty work. The only way out of doing temporary light duty work for these employers is to convince your treating doctor that he should take you off work completely for a period of time. Doctors sometimes tell injured workers that the law does not allow them to take employees off work completely, but that isn't true. The doctor still decides what is best for the patient and whether you are able to do some work or not. If you disagree with your doctor, you may request a change of doctors through your adjuster.
If your employer's policies require that you work temporary light duty work when it is offered, then you risk getting fired if you don't work. If you are fired for refusing temporary light duty work, you will not receive lost time workers' compensation benefits. You will, however, continue to receive medical care, and may receive a permanent partial disability award when your claim is closed. You may also risk not receiving vocational rehabilitation benefits if you have permanent light duty work restrictions. Your employer might claim that permanent light duty work would have been offered if you had not been fired when you refused to do temporary light duty work.
If your employer is not following the temporary light duty work restrictions, speak to your supervisor, and also notify your adjuster. Send a follow-up letter in writing to the adjuster and your employer if the situation continues. If you just stop working, you risk job termination and losing benefits. Having to take pain medication, or having difficulty getting to work because of the injury will not get you out of a temporary light duty work assignment. Discuss with your doctor whether she wants you taking pain medication while at work, and if so, to clearly document that. You might also ask the adjuster for help in getting to work if you are unable to drive and you can't take public transportation.
It's hard not to get upset when your employer is requiring that you show up for some stupid light duty task when you have a legitimate work injury and are not feeling well. However, you need to keep the big picture in mind, and not do anything that might make your situation worse. Do your best to report for work and not argue with your employer. Don't risk losing your job, particularly if you have a serious injury and you think that you might be given permanent work restrictions. You cannot afford to jeopardize your right to any vocational rehabilitation benefits.