After a workplace injury, the goal for most workers is to get back on the job. While workers’ compensation will cover their medical expenses and the wages they have lost while they were recovering, once a doctor clears the worker for light duty, those temporary disability benefits can disappear if the worker refuses a reasonable offer to come back to work.
While employers in Missouri are not legally required to offer light duty work, if they do, it is not always an end to the dilemma. In some cases, light duty work creates new legal issues.
Can Light Duty Roles Create Workplace Conflict?
The issues generally begin the same way: A worker gets hurt on the job, but then recovers enough to do something at work, but not enough to return to his or her old role. The doctor puts restrictions on what they can do at work. The employer then offers a light duty role that complies with these restrictions. In some cases, it is the worker’s old job, but without certain arduous tasks. In other cases, it is an entirely different position.
While the offer of light duty work is a step in the right direction and gets the worker closer to returning to their old job, it can also raise a handful of potentially serious disputes.
Employers Frequently Pressure Workers to Return to Their Old Jobs Before They Are Ready
One of the most common issues that workers face when they return to modified work or a light duty role is their employer pushing them into their old job before they can handle it.
Employers tend to do this for several reasons:
- The worker is receiving his or her old salary but is not performing their old job duties
- The employer may have a hard time distributing the worker’s old tasks to other employees
- Another injured worker may also need light duty work
In many cases, the pressure is subtle. The worker’s supervisor may ask the worker to do something that violates one of the doctor’s work restrictions “just once.” But then it happens again and again.
This pressure has a very foreseeable result: The worker can aggravate the injury that was restricting their job duties, setting them back in their recovery.
Workers’ Compensation Insurers Can Pressure Employers, Too
The pressure that a worker feels to return to their job may actually be coming from the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer. When a worker gets hurt, the insurer pays for their disability benefits. But when a worker returns to light duty, the employer goes back to paying the worker’s salary.
This puts a financial incentive on insurers to get workers back into light duty roles so they are no longer responsible for paying them. To do this, they generally discount workers’ compensation insurance premiums for employers who offer light duty roles. But some insurers go further and pressure employers into offering light duty roles that arguably do not comply with the worker’s medical restrictions.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Offers of light duty work are fraught with potential problems. The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office represent hurt workers at all stages of the compensation and recovery process. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 for help in St. Joseph, Springfield, Kansas City, or the rest of western Missouri.