by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
The short answer to this question is yes. If an employer attempts to work out a way where you can perform light duty work during the time you are being compensated for a workplace injury, then you will run the risk of losing your compensation benefits if you do not attempt to work light duty. Many employers provide light duty work for injured workers. The authorized treating physician must assess your injuries and clear you for the light duty tasks. If you do not report to work when light duty is available, your employer can terminate your employment.
Temporary light duty can be any number of tasks that an employer can think up for employees that cannot perform their normal duties. These can include anything from counting cars that come into a place of employment to doing volunteer work in the name of the company. While these can sometimes be frustrating tasks to be delegated when there is other work to be done, it is favorable to not working at all or losing benefits. If an employer offers light duty to you and you refuse to go see the authorized treating physician to request it, then you run the risk of the employer firing you. If you are fired for this, then you will not receive lost time workers’ compensation benefits. You will still receive medical care for the original injury.
When speaking to the authorized treating physician know that he does not have to allow the light duty. The authorized treating physician may deem your injury is too severe to return to work at all for a period of time. This situation would mean that your injury is disabling to the point where the employer can think of no task to give you to allow you to work. Remember that an employer can set any task to qualify as light duty no matter how little physical labor it would take to accomplish.
Thus, the authorized treating physician must say that you are completely unable to perform any task that the employer sets forth as light duty. Also, the authorized treating physician must take into account any medications you might need for the injury that could affect you while at work. Having to take medication will not get you out of a light duty task, but it will be a factor in which tasks may be safe for you to do. Also, the authorized treating physician needs to note to your employer that you are on medication while performing the task or that you are not allowed to take medication during the light duty. This can sometimes be difficult because you are not allowed to take pain medication during a time which you might really need it. The authorized treating physician is allowed to permit the light duty without allowing the medication during work if you are still able to perform your work without it being harmful for you not to take the medication.
The main thing to remember here is that to keep your job you must attempt perform the light duty if it is offered to you. Failure to do so could result in loss of employment or workers’ compensation benefits. It is best to get your work restrictions in writing from the authorized treating physician and give a copy to your employer so that all the parties involved will have an understanding as to what are the work restrictions.
Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced workers’ compensation law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine.