One of the goals of the workers’ compensation system is to get employees back to work as quickly and as safely as possible. One way that employers may be able to bring employees back quickly is by offering light duty work to the employee. In order to enable the employee to accept light duty work, it must accommodate any restrictions the employee’s physician of record may order with regard to physical activity. Simply creating busy work for an employee to return to may not always be efficient and there are some employees who may be completely disabled due to their work injury or who may have restrictions that an employer cannot accommodate. Accordingly, not all claims are open to this particular remedy.
However, where an employee has restrictions but cannot return to the former position of employment, employers should at least consider whether light duty work can be created. In addition to getting the employee acclimated to working again and perhaps hastening the time in which the employee can return to the former position of employment, offers of light duty work can also be a means to bring and end to stagnating periods of temporary total disability.
Temporary total disability is a wage substitute for claims in which the employee, due to the work related injury has suffered a disability which prevents them from returning to the former position of employment. Where the employer chooses not to provide salary continuation, the Bureau will pay wage substitute benefits to the employee. Temporary total disability benefits can only be cut off under certain circumstances:
- The employee returns to the former position of employment or any other work for any employer.
- The employee is released by the employee’s physician to return to the former position of employment.
- The employer offers the employee work within the employee’s physical capabilities.
- The employee has reached maximum medical improvement.
- The benefits have been paid due to a substantial aggravation of a preexisting injury and the injury has returned to the level it was prior to the aggravation.
Caution is advised as it is not enough to simply inform the employee that light duty work is available. The offer must identify the position offered and must include a description of the duties required of the position and clearly specify the physical demands of the job. For example, if the job will require lifting, information on the weight and frequency involved. An oral job offer is acceptable, but if the employee refuses and the employer desires to use that refusal as a basis for terminating temporary total disability benefits, the offer must be reduced to writing.
Therefore, the best practice for any light duty offer would be to make the offer in writing, by certified letter, which clearly identifies the work available, and which clearly describes the duties and physical demands. Skip the oral offer and start off with a written offer as it must be in writing to be enforceable in any case.