If You Can Return to Light Duty After a Workers' Comp Injury, Does Your Employer Have to Hire You?
In most states, when a worker is able to return to light duty while treating for a work injury, the employer must provide light-duty work if it is available. Likewise, the worker must generally accept the work, provided that his or her treating physician has approved the job duties.
Accepting light-duty work doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your temporary disability benefits, though. If the light-duty position pays less than what you were earning before your accident, you can typically receive a portion of the difference in your wages. For example, if your state normally pays two-thirds of your wages in temporary disability benefits, you could still receive two-thirds of the difference in your wages.
Turning down light-duty work, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on your workers’ compensation benefits. In many states, including Washington, you can lose your right to collect wage loss benefits if you refuse to accept suitable work that is approved by your doctor. In California, you might lose your right to vocational rehabilitation benefits if you turn down an alternate or modified position.
Of course, you are not expected to accept a position if it would violate your doctor’s work restrictions. If your employer offers you light duty or alternative work, make sure that your employer knows about the restrictions your doctor has put on you, such as no lifting over 20 pounds. If your employer asks you to do some heavy lifting anyway, decline the task and say your doctor has recommended against it, and document the occurrence. In general, it is illegal for your employer to fire you for refusing to perform work that your doctor says you shouldn't do.