Beware That Light Duty Job Offer

After an L&I claim, your employer may offer to bring you back to work, with consent from your doctor, for a “light duty” or “transitional” job. This offer may be legitimate. Maybe your boss really wants to help you get back on your feet and will work with your doctor to spend time and resources to help you recover… or maybe you need to take a second look at that job offer.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is very proud of their Stay At Work Program, putting out press releases about the benefits and cost savings. There’s even a nice little page on the State’s website: http://www.lni.wa.gov/main/stayatwork/

At a glance, it’s a nice picture – give businesses a financial incentive to create light duty work while employees recover from injuries suffered on the job. What this cute little portrait leaves out is the built-in incentive for employers to discriminate against injured workers and force them to quit in order to get the claim off of their books.

But wait! – you say, if the doctor has to approve, how can this be bad? It’s pretty clever, actually. The employer creates an overly simple job they don’t need, knowing it won’t last. The doctor will approve because the light duty job is too good to be true. The injured worker goes back to work and is given tasks like doing book reports on how to be safer in the workplace, or organizing files on a computer only to watch the whole system be purged because it is too old. Just think of Milton working in the basement in the movie Office Space.

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I’ve had clients who were 20-year construction workers with no office or clerical skills be offered administrative work. I’ve had lead servers be told they can be prep cooks, without any experience, even though they had to remain seated in ergonomic chairs, and couldn’t use their wrists for repetitive tasks (one employer made a worker take their breaks sitting in that chair, in front of customers).

What happens to that construction-worker-turned-receptionist? They become the laughing stock of the workplace. I’ve seen injured workers with extensive injuries and whose doctors are requesting extensive surgeries be shamed into quitting after being called lazy fakers and liars. Perhaps worse, a worker can be given a joke job where they receive absolutely no training and then be fired, only to be denied vocational services by the State because they now have “new transferable skills.”

The bottom line: this program is a bribe for employers to bring back injured workers before they’ve had a chance to recover with fairytale jobs that any doctor will approve, so the state can save money on time loss. Once these workers are brought back and told to stare at the wall all day, or do things they have no experience doing, they get ridiculed, shamed, and ultimately quit, leaving them jobless and still suffering from their injuries and unable to perform in the competitive workplace. But hey, if it saves employers and the State money on time loss and treatment (the benefits guaranteed to injured workers under the Industrial Insurance Act) it’s gotta be good, right?

Don’t get shoved out of treatment by the system you’ve been paying into your entire working career. If you feel like you’ve been forced back to work in a sham temporary, transitional or light duty job, don’t quit (the state can cut you off immediately)! Call for help.

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