Workers’ compensation laws are designed to make it easier for an individual who was injured due to a work-related accident or disease to receive medical care and be compensated for lost wages. The ultimate goal is to allow the worker to recover from the injuries and return to gainful employment.
Questions can arise when an employee’s doctor places light-duty work restrictions on the authorization to return to work or when an employer offers a worker the opportunity to return to light-duty work while the individual is still recovering. Here are five of the most common questions people and their employers have about light-duty work restrictions.
#1 – Must an employer offer light-duty work?
Answer: As a general rule, employers are not obligated to offer light-duty work to workers seeking to return after a work-related injury. There are, however, exceptions. Oregon, for example, requires employers with six or more workers to accommodate a returning worker whose doctor authorizes a return to work with light-duty work restrictions. The obligation to permit the worker to return only applies if a job exists to accommodate the restrictions and the employee has the skill and training to perform the tasks associated with the job.
An employee on workers’ compensation in Oregon has up to three years from the date of injury to request reinstatement to either full-duty work or light-duty work if a suitable job becomes available. There is an incentive of sorts for employers to create a position to accommodate someone who is cleared to return to work with light-duty restrictions. The person’s return to employment could diminish the payments the worker receives under workers’ compensation and lower the employer’s insurance premiums.
#2 – Can an injured worker refuse an offer of reemployment with light-duty work restrictions?
Answer: The general rule is that a worker has the right to refuse an offer of reemployment with light-duty work restrictions as long as the individual’s health care provider has not authorized it. If a physician has cleared a worker to return with light-duty work restrictions, a refusal to do so by the worker could result in the loss of workers’ compensation benefits.
#3 – Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) affect offers of light-duty work?
Answer: Both the FMLA and workers’ compensation laws offer protection to workers that might differ dramatically when an offer of reemployment with light-duty work restrictions is made to an injured worker. The FMLA allows a worker to refuse an offer of reemployment without loss of family leave rights, but the refusal of light-duty work could jeopardize the individual’s right to continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they have medical clearance for it.
#4 – Does a worker returning to work under light-duty work restrictions get paid less than a worker without restrictions?
Answer: Salaried employees, as opposed to those paid on the basis of the number of hours worked each day, could be entitled to receive their usual salary even if working under light-duty work restrictions, depending upon the laws a particular state. Employees who usually work on an hourly-wage basis are paid based upon the number of hours worked while on light-duty.
Oregon allows employers to pay returning workers at the rate of pay normally associated with the light-duty position at which they are reemployed. Employers have the option to pay workers at the pay rate they were previously earning instead of at the lower rate. This allows them to avoid paying additional wage benefits under workers’ compensation in order to keep their premiums lower.
#5 -Does an employer have to reinstate a worker on light-duty work restrictions to his or her original job when doctors remove the restrictions?
Answer: As a general rule, an employer cannot take adverse action to penalize an employee for taking advantage of the benefits offered through workers’ compensation. Included in this would be denying workers the right to return to their original jobs once they have recovered sufficiently from their injuries to return to work.
A worker who accepts reemployment with light-duty work restrictions cannot be denied the opportunity to return to his or her original job when the restrictions are removed by the doctor who originally authorized the return to work. In Oregon, the right to reinstatement to the job the person held prior to being injured applies even if the position was given to another worker, as long as the request for reinstatement is made within three years from the date of the original injury.
These and other questions surrounding a decision to return to work under light-duty work restrictions involve complex legal issues that might affect a person’s entitlement to benefits. The legal advice of a workers’ compensation attorney might be the best source for additional information on this topic.