If a workplace injury is preventing you from fully performing your job, but you’re still able to do some types of work, the workers’ compensation doctor might clear you for “light-duty” work. Because the purpose of light duty is to allow employees to keep working without compromising their healing process, the exact meaning of this term is individual to each case. In general, however, it refers to work that is less physically or mentally demanding than an employee’s regular duties. Below are the answers to six questions employees often have about how to navigate workers’ compensation and light-duty work.
Do I have to take a light-duty assignment?
If your employer offers you work that conforms to the doctor’s restrictions, then workers’ compensation rules require you to return to work. If you refuse, then your employer could ask for your benefits to be reduced or terminated. Your employer should provide a job description for the doctor to review so they can determine whether the associated duties are compatible with your recovery. If the doctor has not authorized you to perform the tasks that will be required of you, then you are not obligated to return until this happens.
Does my employer have to provide light-duty work?
While employers have no obligation to provide light-duty work for injured employees, it’s often in their best interest to do so. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development recommends establishing “return-to-work” programs that include modified jobs so workers can come back sooner. The department states this practice can reduce business costs as well as support worker satisfaction. If your employer doesn’t offer light-duty work, however, you may continue to collect temporary benefits while you continue to heal.
What if the light-duty job my employer offers pays less than my regular job?
Your employer is not required to pay the same for modified work as you receive for your regular job. However, New Jersey workers’ compensation entitles you to receive 70% of your regular income (within minimum and maximum amounts set by statute) while you are unable to perform your normal duties due to a workplace injury. If your employer offers you modified work that pays less than this amount, then you may seek recovery from the employer’s insurer for the difference.
What if light-duty work makes my injury worse?
First, make sure the doctor has reviewed and approved of all the tasks you’re performing in your modified job. If you start working and find that you’re doing things that the doctor hasn’t explicitly approved, inform your employer of this. You should not be required to do work that hasn’t been cleared by the workers’ compensation doctor. If you’re only performing tasks the doctor has approved, then make another appointment to discuss this and request modifications to your work restrictions.
Until the doctor agrees that you should avoid a particular type of work, your employer may expect you to continue performing it. However, make sure to let them know how the work is affecting your condition. It’s not generally in an employer’s best interest to require employees to perform work that exacerbates injury, since doing so would likely result in higher costs for the employer, both in additional worker’s compensation liability and in lost productivity.
Should I stay home and use my paid sick leave instead?
If you’ve accrued sick leave, there are situations in which it might benefit you to use this instead of workers’ compensation benefits. While workers’ comp covers just 70% of lost wages (or less for higher earners), sick leave can replace 100% of lost wages. Especially when your employer expects you to come in and perform light-duty work for less, it can be tempting to just stay home and collect your sick pay. By doing so, however, you could be giving up important rights. If you’re not sure whether to file a workers’ compensation claim or use accrued sick leave, talk to an experienced New Jersey workers’ comp attorney to understand how to best protect your rights and claim the maximum benefits to which you’re entitled.
Should I talk to an attorney about my workers’ compensation claim?
When the doctor clears you for modified work, it can be difficult to understand how to best balance protecting your health and doing what the law requires to preserve your right to compensation. An attorney can be immensely valuable when navigating the workers’ comp process. They can advise you about your rights to receive workers’ compensation benefits, medical evaluation, workplace accommodations, and appropriate treatment for your injury. They may also make you aware of other forms of compensation you might be entitled to. In case of a dispute, they can help ensure your rights are protected.
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