Nearly all employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover on-the-job injuries to their employees. Most states’ workers’ compensation laws contain a commonly misunderstood exception – the “light duty” rule. In most states, if an employee can return to light duty while being treated for an injury, you must provide light duty work if available. What follows is a general overview of light duty. Make sure to consult your specific state law to see if and when the light duty exception applies.

What is the light duty exception?

Generally, the light duty exception refers to work that is less physically or mentally demanding and that is created as an alternative position for employees that cannot perform their regular work duties. These positions can be temporary or permanent. Modified work usually depends on the work restrictions put in place by your employee’s doctor and your ability to find work for your employee within those restrictions.

If your employee suffers an injury that prevents them from performing their regular duties and you have a light duty position available, you must transfer that employee to the light duty position. Some examples of light duty work include:

  • Restructuring the employee’s current job to comply with doctor’s orders
  • Working a desk job
  • Monitoring surveillance cameras
  • Supervising and reporting on job sites
  • Taking inventory of supplies

Generally, it is not required that you have a light duty position available. If you do not, your injured employee, if eligible, will simply receive workers’ compensation payments.

What if your employee turns down a light duty position?

If you offer your employee a light duty position but they refuse, they may lose their right to collect workers’ compensation and their employment could be terminated. However, this is not a guarantee and each state’s law is different. Case law from your state should be consulted. Before making any decision on termination, coordinate with your legal counsel and go over the specific facts and circumstances of each case.

Do you have to return the employee to their previous position after they recover from their injury?

Typically, you cannot deny your employee the opportunity to return to their original job once their doctor removes all work restrictions. Doing so would be penalizing the employee for taking advantage of the benefits offered from workers’ compensation. In some states, reinstatement rights apply even if the position was given to another worker. Again, make sure to consult your state’s law.

There are many questions around employer and employee rights and obligations under the light duty exception. Consult your state’s law, work with your HR team and, if necessary, consult with local attorneys to make sure you comply with your state’s workers’ compensation law.

Finally, contact your JAISIN insurance advisor. They can help you review your worker’s compensation policies.

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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