Light Duty

Q: What is light duty?
A: Light duty is meant to allow an injured or ill employee to return to the workplace, but with work duties modified to conform to an employee’s medically imposed limitations. While light duty usually involves orthopedic type limitations (lifting, bending etc.), it can also include things like environmental exposure limitations (10 minutes of fresh air, no overtime).

Q: Why do employers offer light duty?
A: The reasons include a general perception that the healing process is accelerated and improved by having an employee return earlier to the workplace. In addition, particularly with regard to work-related injuries, there is a perceived financial incentive to have an employee do some work rather than to pay workers compensation temporary benefits for the worker to stay home.

Q: Are there therapeutic benefits to light duty?
A: The writer believes that being in a socially supportive environment will likely produce a better therapeutic outcome, although there is some evidence (very partial) to the contrary. See e.g. H. Herkowitz et al. , The Lumbar Spine: Official Publication of the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine (3d ed., 2004) at p. 173-74.

Q: Does an employer have to offer light duty?
A: If practicable, an employer should consider light duty as a reasonable accommodation under the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Q: If I get hurt at work, does the employer have to offer light duty?
A: No, except to the extent required under the LAD.

Q: If my doctor says I can do “light duty”, what should I do?
A: First, and most important, you should understand the precise contours of what your medical limitations are. The treater should specify in writing how much and how often you can lift, carry etc. You should promptly report to work, making sure that your employer is aware of all these limitations, preferably by giving the employer a copy of the treater’s specific limitations. You should advise your employer that you are ready, willing and able to perform any function within the written limitations, and of course you should perform those functions.

Q: What happens if the employer tries to force me to work beyond my limitations?
A: You should not agree to work beyond your limitations, as this poses a substantial risk to your health. If the employer cannot find work within your limitations, you should be sent home.

Q: What kind of pay am I entitled to if I am on light duty?
A: Usually, the employer should and will pay the rate for the job title to which the light duty employee is assigned. If there is a different rate of pay solely because the employee is on light duty, it may be a violation of the LAD.

Q: What are the pay rules if the light duty is directed in connection with a work–related injury?
A: In such cases, light duty is usually part of the temporary disability period. Hence, your net pay should equal your temporary disability rate, and the workers compensation carrier should make up the difference if not.

Q: Does an employer have to give me permanent light duty?
A: Under the LAD and the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), light duty can be a reasonable accommodation. But an employer is under no obligation to create a new position where none existed, and there is no obligation to turn an otherwise temporary position into a permanent one. See Turner v. Hershey Chocolate USA, 440 F.3d 604 (3d Cir. 2004).

Q: Am I entitled to a light duty job if I don’t have sufficient seniority?
A: An employer is not required to violate a bona fide seniority system to create a light duty position. In a unionized workplace, it is important for you to be in contact with the union early in the process.

Q: How do I know if there is a light duty job available?
A: If you give your employer prompt notice of your disability, requesting accommodations for the disability, it becomes the employer’s responsibility to engage with you in the interactive, discussion process of finding accommodations. You should, in conjunction with the union (if applicable), identify with specificity any accommodations that could enable you to return to work while within your medical limitations.

Q: What are some examples of accommodations that can be considered?
A: These can include job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, and acquisition or modification of equipment or devices.

David Tykulsker & Associates

The Law Office of David Tykulsker & Associates is located in Montcalir, NJ and serves clients in Essex County, New Jersey and New York states. Contact us for all matters concerning employee rights, labor law and workers compensation.
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