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What is “light duty” after an employee files a workers’ comp claim?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2024 | Workers' Compensation Defense |

There comes a time after a work-related injury that the employee’s physician will state the worker is ready to return to some work duties. Although the employee might not be ready to return to their original post and responsibilities, light duty might be an option. But what does that mean? Unfortunately, the definition is not always clear, and employers need to move forward carefully as a misstep can result in allegations of a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is the ADA?

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In the context of employment, it ensures equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and allows for reasonable accommodations. An injured employee may qualify for protections under the ADA if their injury results in a disability. Employers should take this into consideration before discussing the potential for a worker to return to light duty.

What is “light duty” for an employee?

An employer may use light duty work to help ease the injured employee back into their role. The work may be temporary, but employers are often wise to refrain from setting any nonnegotiable deadlines. The policy may have an ideal timeline, but it is a good idea to include a provision that clarifies that the employer and employee can discuss the transition before transitioning away from light duty.

Employers can further ensure a viable light duty policy by taking these steps:

  1. Communicate with the employee to understand their limitations and abilities,
  2. Determine what reasonable accommodations can be made, and
  3. Document all actions. Keep records of the discussions and accommodations offered.

Employers must be mindful that light duty does not become a tool for discrimination. It should be a means to facilitate the employee’s transition back to their original role or an equivalent position, where possible.