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Beware that light duty job offer

empty chair, light duty job offer

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.

Discuss your light duty job offer with us during a free consultation

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).

Office Space red 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.



Photo by Paula Schmidt from Pexels


  • Sophia says:

    Who do you call

    • Rich Byers says:

      Hello Sophia – Thank you for your post. We will reach out to you to discuss privately.

  • Jeff starr says:

    Hey .. I’m stuck in a classroom AGC RETRO … books to do study are from 1992 .. and no phones or computers allowed .. such a waste of time

    • Rich Byers says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your comment. Give us a call at 509-228-7011 if you’d like to discuss your claim.

  • LUPE VALDEZ says:

    I was on l&i,workers comp.,i accepted a full time light duty job paying me 2 dollars less,should i be getting paid the higher amount of the previous job the dr. had me not go back to

    • Rich Byers says:

      Hi Lupe,

      Thanks for your question. Unfortunately there is no guarantee or requirement that you be returned to work at the same income level. The job must match your work pattern (Full time/Part time) and be continuous. If you have other questions or concerns about your claim, give us a call at 509-228-7011.

  • Michael V says:

    I am currently on light duty due to a knee injury. I was told they had a light duty position for me but I never have enough work to do to even get my 40 hrs when the rest of my crew gets 50hrs. This means I am left with only two options leave early or literally be stuck sitting at work with nothing to do for 8-10 hours. Do i have the option to not work and focus on getting my knee back into shape?

    • Rich Byers says:

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for reaching out. The answer to your question depends on a couple of factors. Give us a call to discuss the particulars of your situation.

  • koreen says:

    Already resigned now what? They were having me write names out of a phone book all day and making comments about it in my presenceI

    • Rich Byers says:

      Thanks for your comment. Unless you resigned your position on advice from your attending physician, based on restrictions related to your industrial injury, you likely are no longer eligible for time loss benefits. There are other details about your claim that may come into play. If you would like to discuss your situation further, give us a call at 509-228-7011.

  • Joshua Soth says:

    I received a light duty job offer for administrative work. I am an executive chef and was injured on the job. I was given 5-10 hours a week to do paperwork. The thing is, I don’t want to return to work at this employer. What are my options if I decline the offer? Do I still have my physical therapy paid for? Can I look for another job and receive loss of earning?

    • Rich Byers says:

      Hi Mr. Soth, thank you for your comment. I emailed you privately if you have further questions, but the very brief answer to your question is that time loss is not generally available if an injured worker refuses a valid light duty job offer that has been approved by their attending physician. If your doctor has not had the chance to review the job offer, or other criteria have not been met regarding the offer, you may not have to accept it and could potentially still be eligible for time loss.