Originally posted July 2014
Updated June 2021
You’ve suffered a workplace injury or occupational disease. 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 may mean:
- Fewer hours
- Less physically demanding duties
- Accommodations made to your worksite or job that includes additional equipment, tools, or access
These light-duty jobs could include retail or administrative work, supervision, shipping or packing duties, safety inspections, etc. This offer could be well-intentioned. There is a possibility that your boss wants to work with you and your doctor to spend time and resources on your recovery… but maybe not.
It’s always best to give that “light duty” job a second look. It might not be as charitable as it seems.
What is hiding behind the Light Duty Job offer?
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is proud of its Stay At Work Program. There’s even a tidy little page on the State’s website.
At a glance, it’s a pretty picture – gives businesses a financial incentive to create light duty work while employees recover from injuries suffered on the job. This cute little portrait forgets to mention the built-in incentive for employers to discriminate against injured workers and force them to quit to get a workers’ comp claim off of their books.
But wait! – you say, if the doctor has to approve this, is it so 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 it 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” (I believe you have my stapler).
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.”
Here are a couple of mind-blowing light duty job offer cases we’ve helped resolve:
The Fake Job
One of our clients was asked to do the office equivalent of moving rocks from one side of the yard to the other (doh!). Their employer asked them to move gigabytes of photos to one computer, then a week later was asked to move them right back to the original computer.
The Blatant Disregard
A client was suffering from a complicated condition of painful bilateral carpal tunnel. Her doctor required that she sit in an ergonomic chair and refrain from repetitive wrist movements. However, her employer’s light duty job offer required her to stand for six hours while chopping vegetables, which went against her doctor’s orders. The sandwich shop gave her an ergonomic chair to sit in and wheel herself around. However, the issue wasn’t the standing. It was the chopping vegetables with bilateral carpal tunnel (face palm moment here). She was also humiliated and forced to take her lunch break in the ergonomic chair out in the lobby where the customers were eating.
What happens to that construction-worker-turned-receptionist? They become the laughing stock of the workplace. We’ve seen workers with extensive injuries whose doctors are requesting major 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.”
Can I refuse a light duty job offer?
This is where it gets tricky. What happens if your boss gives you a light duty job offer that you can’t do? The natural response would be to simply deny the light duty job offer then, right? Under no circumstances should you refuse the light duty job offer. Why? Because a refusal will deny you time loss benefits and other future time loss benefits that you would otherwise receive due to your injury.
Here are the steps to take when you get a light duty job offer:
- Whatever you do, don’t say, “No.” Accept the job offer even if it doesn’t fit with the doctor’s restrictions they’ve given you on the activity prescription form. This is absolutely crucial.
- Two days after you start your light duty job, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Give yourself a few days to work at the light duty job and discuss how your body is reacting to new tasks. Your doctor can determine if your employer is giving you too many restrictions, or not enough. If your doctor has been involved from day one, it will be far easier for step three (your attorney) to help you if your employer is giving you trouble.
- Contact a workers’ compensation attorney for a free legal consultation. An attorney can help if you and your doctor find discrepancies between what you feel you’re able to do and what the employer is requiring from you. An L&I attorney can ensure that you still get your time loss benefits and tell your employer, “Nope, try again.”
Your L&I Claim
The bottom line: the Stay at Work Program is a bribe for employers to bring back injured workers before they’ve had a chance to recover. It promises 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. This leaves them jobless, 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?
Workers’ compensation attorneys in Central and Eastern Washington
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, you must accept the job. Then call for help.
The experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Carlisle + Byers will help you recover and get back to work that you actually enjoy doing. Schedule a free consultation today.