Light Duty Work

I  am asked a lot of questions about light duty work.  If you are injured at work and your employer offers you light duty work, what should you do?


Well, first and foremost, the statute requires the employer to provide to your physician a statement describing the available work in terms which will allow the physician to determine the physical activities of job. The physician then determines whether the worker is able to perform the work described.  You are also to be provided with a copy. So, if you get a phone call from your employer asking you to report to light duty work, ask for the written description and ask whether it has been provided to your physician, and whether your physician has approved it. Sometimes this paperwork flies around fairly quickly by Fax, so you might not be aware the job description was sent to your doctor. Ask for a copy.


If there is a written job description, and it has been approved by your medical provider – do you have to report to work? The choice is yours, of course. However, if you decline  light duty work which has been approved by your physician your time loss benefits will stop. And, it will be hard to get them reinstated. Not impossible, but very difficult.  You are better off reporting to work.


There are some things to keep in mind if you are returning to light duty work with your employer after an injury.  First, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It may help your recovery to stay active, working a few hours a day can help ease you into a return to regular work. Staying connected to the work force reduces long-term disability.  Returning to light duty or modified work may preserve your benefits including health care, pension contributions, vacation pay and the like.  In most cases, workers will be better off financially if they return to work with their employer, even part-time work, sooner rather than later.


Making sure your physical restrictions and limitations are honored is your responsibility. If you are asked to do something outside your restrictions, politely decline. If you don’t enforce your restrictions, no one else will. If you are consistently asked to do work which exceeds your limitations, speak to a supervisor, and tell your attending medical provider. Your doctor may decide to pull you off the light duty work if you are doing tasks which place you at risk of reinjury or will slow your recovery.


Most employers are genuine in their desire to get you back to work, keep you connected to the work force, reduce your lost wages, and ultimately return you to regular work. I said ‘most’ not ‘all’. There is no rule of law which requires your employer to be nice to you. Some won’t be. Some will be rude, some will give you demeaning work, some will belittle you in front of your co-workers. They want you to quit. They want to trump up a reason to fire you for violating a company rule. If  you are fired for cause or quit light duty work which was approved by your physician, your time loss benefits will not be reinstated. At least, not without a fight.  These bad apple employers do not want you around. If they can not get you to quit, or find a reason to fire you for cause, the light duty work will likely evaporate and you will be eligible for time loss again. In the meantime, mutter karma, karma, karma under your breath, enforce your physical restrictions, and concentrate on your recovery.

46 thoughts on “Light Duty Work

  1. i was hired on to a window cleaning co to wash windows and clean .when i hurt my back at work for the 6 th time in 10 years ,the dr i seen told me i could return to work light duty .my boss informed workers comp that i could return to work as an assisting secratary to his wife in his basment ,far from the job description that i was hired for . my question is do i have no choice or do i have to learn secratarial skills?

  2. If your employer is offering you a legitimate, bona fide light duty job, and you have the skills to do it, then your choices are pretty limited. You can accept the job or turn it down and have your time loss benefits stopped. But there are at least three things which jump out at me from your post.
    First, the light duty job offer has to be work with the employer of injury, not another employer. If the bosses wife has her own business in the basement, then this is not work with the employer of injury.
    Second, it does not sound as if you have the skills to do secretarial work. If this is general office work that you can do with out retraining, that might be ok. But if your employer is talking about ‘retraining’ you, then you absolutely do have some choices.
    Third, you do not say whether your attending medical provider has reviewed and approved a light duty job description. This is required so both employer and worker know the physical limits on return to work activity.
    You should talk to an attorney, and make sure this is a bona fide light duty job offer. If you are unsure, and have an immediate return to work date, I usually suggest accepting the job and showing up – and then getting some help to determine if it a bona fide light duty job offer.
    Good Luck.

  3. I was injured at work 3 years ago. I had therapy off and on for a year but because I was still doing the same job the problem worsened and I had my first surgery. The surgery didn’t work so I had a more complicated surgery. I had therapy for a while after that but because of the cuting of muscles and tendons in my elbow I developed wrist problems and therapy discharged me pending more diagnosis test ordered by my Dr. These test where never approved and my L& I claim was closed.Meanwhile I had to have sugery on my other elbow.(Separate Claim#) I am at this time in therapy but again I am having strenght and mobility problems with that wrist and now I also have developed secondary ACL tendonitis in my shoulder. My Dr. today said I could do light duty work. I was released from employment a year and a half ago because I was not able to return even for light duty. My question is how do I find a light duty job from a new employer?

  4. Sherrie,

    It sounds like you have not been released to return to work at your job of injury. If that is the case, what happens next depends on your work history and transferable skills. Your Time Loss should continue, at least for now. You should be assigned a vocational counselor (VRC), who will be asked to conduct an Ability to Work Assessment (AWA). If you can not return to your job of injury the VRC will assess whether you can return to previous work, or alternative work using transferable work skills. Further vocational services may or may not be offered depending on the outcome of this assessment. If you have questions about the process, your rights, or what to do in a specific situation, get to an attorney.

    In the meantime, I tell my clients to take control of their lives. Very few injured workers are found not employable and able to benefit from further vocational services. Last time I saw numbers, something like 2000 workers a year were offered retraining. So, don’t wait for L&I to decide your employable and terminate your benefits. Figure out what you want to do. Apply for Social Security Disability if you honestly believe you can not and will not return to work. If you think you can physically work, think about what you want to do, and start taking steps in that direction. Talk to your assigned VRC about what skills you have and suggestions for how to best use them. If you find a job, notify your claims manager. If you want to go to school, research it, sign up, and tell your vocational counselor. There are a lot of training programs out there, short and long, academic and vocational. You might have to finance it with student loans, or maybe the counselor will recommend retraining. Either way, you are moving forward.

    The point is, it is your future. You should start deciding how to spend it.

  5. i have a position reviewing data for an environmental company. i just had shoulder surgery and after 10 days returned to work. I am slower at my job, but getting better everyday. I will be in a restrictive sling for 5 more weeks. i am still in alot of pain. Yesterday, a co-worker came up to me and clamped their hand down on my shoulder, then shook it. I reacted by screaming then was in pain spasms for the rest of the day and unable to work. i was told by my employer that i am not fit for duty if i react this way to being touched. i responded politely that i am fit for duty and have the right to work, and that my employer needs to provide me with a work environment where i will not be touched, jostled or bumped into during the course of the day for the next 6 weeks. i am at home today using up my last vacation day while recovering from the muscle spasms set off by my co-worker. do i have the right to return to work tomorrow?

    • You don’t say if the shoulder surgery was done under a workers compensation claim. I’m guessing yes, or you are not likely to have posted your question here. If this is a workers compensation claim, and your employer tells you to stay home because they do not think you can do your job yet, then you are entitled to time loss benefits. You shouldn’t be using your vacation days. Talk to your doctor about restrictions on your work activities, then share those restrictions with your employer.

  6. I have a work related injury. I drive a truck over the road. I fell on the job. I am receiving loss wages benifits. I have 3 ruptured disks in my neck and 2 in my lower back. I am facing surgery at the least in my neck if not both neck and lower back. My employer has created a job that did not exist befor my injury. He wants me to do light duty as a night watchman sitting at a desk and answering a phone that nobody will be calling because there is nobody around to do anything. I am taking prescribed strong pain meds. With my condition I am walking with a walker and cannot drive because of the meds. Do I have to take the light duty work if I cannot drive because of meds? I dont understand what the purpose of trying to put me to work at a job that never existed before and having doing anything at a job on heavy meds. I cannot by law drive a vehicle of any kind to and from work because the narcotic meds. By the way it is 80mi one way to and from my job. Please give me advice on what I can do at this point and time?

    • If your medical provider has approved the return to the light duty job, you should go to work, or risk losing your benefits. That said, you should clearly talk to your doctor about the drive, and make sure you are authorized to do it. He may well suggest you avoid taking the meds until after your shift; or may conclude you can not do the drive given the medication. In any event – let your physician’s advice guide you at this point.

  7. please keep me in this loop, this is a most helpful site for those of us who have been hurt and want desperately to go back to work in my chosen field, thanks

  8. if i am injured on the job, and offered light duty work, then later on i return to my regular duties, will i still get a settlement

    • If you have a WA L&I claim it is not thought of as a ‘settlement’. When your claim closes you may be entitled to an award for any permanent partial disability which you may have because of your work related injury. This PPD is not based on whether you can or have returned to your regular work. It is based entirely on physical findings on exam which document a permanent impairment.

    • I am not entirely sure what your question is. Can you employer terminate you? Probably, yes, with some caveats. You may be entitled to Family Medical Leave, the employer may need to attempt to reasonable accommodate your disability, and if this is a Washington workers compensation claim, you may be entitled to time loss benefits if your employer cannot provide the recommended light duty. While there are a few programs in place which encourage employers to keep employees working who are injured, particularly injured on the job, there is no absolute requirement that your employer find light duty work for you. If this is a workers compensation claim, and you are not receiving benefits, talk to an attorney.

  9. I was injured on the job in the state of florida and my doctor put me on light duty. I am not eligable for fmla and my employer didn’t offer a light duty position. I was just terminated for not having fmla can my employer do that?

    • This provides a good opportunity to remind everyone that workers compensation is a creature of State Law (unless your covered by some Federal provisions such as the Longshore Act or FECA) Which means I can’t answer your specific question about circumstances in your Florida workers compensation claim. I’m not licensed in Florida, and don’t know anything about that State’s workers compensation system. That said, there are attorneys in your State who will be able to answer your questions and provide help. Check the yellow pages; use your computer to search for a workers compensation attorney in your city; or call you State’s Trial Lawyers Association or Bar Association for a referral.

  10. Okay a question I have? I was working in a paper mill within my 90 days when my injury occured. I filed a claim and have been reviving time loss benifts. Since the employer could not offer a light duty within my work restrictions. But today my employer called me and fired me due to “job prefomace” while I was working. Legally I know they can fo that. But my question is. Does my time loss benifts end since I was fired? My claim is still open and the Dr said I’m facing surgery on my back.

    • Your time loss benefits will continue, so long as your industrial injury keeps you from working, whether you are technically still employed by your employer or not. Employers are not required to hold your job open while you are recovering from an injury (other than the requirements of FMLA, which can provide some protection) Some employers see the benefit in retaining an injured worker as an employee in order to be able to provide light duty work if and when appropriate, as doing so reduces claim costs. Employers make decisions about their workforce for a host of economic and practical reasons, some of which we don’t see or understand. Ultimately, the employer may decide to lay off an injured worker, but that has no effect on benefits payable under the Industrial Insurance Act.

  11. I was hurt at work in March of 2011. I have had a surgery on my shoulder and now have to have another one. My light duty job at work is reading safety magazines and writing reports. I was doing some traffic control scheduling but they took that away from me. Do I have any rights? This isnt even a job in my line of work they just made it up!!!

  12. I don’t know a lot of factory work I always be a mom so means work at home I got a factory job for one year and some months and a have a little problem because I got injured at my job I have tendonitis in my two wrist and is turning into carpel tunel the factory doctor put me on restriction and the factory lower my pay rate about 3 dollars less and still is they can find nothing for me to do because is my two hands so what I can do??

    • File an L&I claim if you haven’t already done so. Your employer may provide light duty work, but if the pay is less you may be eligible for Loss of Earning Power Benefits (LEP) Even better, there is a new return to work/stay at work program at L&I which will reimburse your employer for paying your full wage while you are on light duty for a period of time. So, you get the benefit of continued work at full wages, and your employer gets those wages reimbursed as an incentive to keep you working.

  13. My daughter was hurt at work abd put on light duty be a doctor. During this time she traveled to other locations to do light duty work. She was given her schedule and was going to work from 8-4. There was no time clock and at 10 am she was told to go home. She asked what she should put on her sheet and the woman told her to put down her scheduled hours. She was told she falsified a document and was suspened with pay. When my daughter told them she needed to have surgery on her knee they fired her three days later. Does she have to worry about the surgery being taken care of by her employer? Can she have them pay her for disability on the hours she lost while on light duty?

    • If the employer was unable to accommodate her light duty restrictions her time loss benefits should continue. It is a little unclear from your note whether the employer is trying to argue your daughter was fired for cause (falsifying her time card) and is therefore not eligible for time loss benefits. If this is the case, get her to an attorney. There are some viable arguments to be made and this type of dispute is one which would benefits from legal help. Medical benefits should continue regardless of what arguments are being made about time loss benefits. If medical treatment is not being authorized, again, get the help of an attorney.

  14. If an injured worker moves voluntarily out of state, does the employer still have the right to offer a bona fide job offer? And if it is declined, does the L&I claim close? Or is the injured worker protected because he chose to move out of the state? What protects the employer from all injured workers just leaving town to avoid light duty job offers? Are their laws that protect the employer? If so, what are they? Thank you!

    • The employer may offer a light duty position even if the injured worker has moved out of State. The Department will evaluate whether it is a bona fide offer, and adjudicate the claim accordingly. The worker’s time loss benefits may be affected if the light duty position is determined to be bona fide and the worker does not accept the work. If a worker is found eligible for vocational services (plan development) the employer again has a last chance to offer permanent work within the appropriate restrictions. I think employers have a lot of control, in fact are very much in the driver’s seat, when it comes to keeping injured workers at work, or bringing them back in modified positions. In many instances it is a win-win when employers strive to keep injured employees at work.

  15. I got hurt at work my boss was not there so I call him he told me go home never told me any thing eles. That night my back was hurting bad so I went to ER that doctor told me take week of see if I feel better. I went to work next day to drop doctor note to boss. He said dont count and sent me to there doctor there doctor said my back was hurt and need to do therpiy but I could go back to work light duty? I work on big trucks and my back still hurts like hell I never got 1 day of to rest can I do any thing? Plus my coworkers make fun of me and call me names

    • I’m going to assume you are in Washington – if that’s the case you have the right to choose your attending physician. A physiatrist (physical medicine, rehab specialist) or orthopedist is best for a back condition. Your employer does not get to choose your physician for you, although if they “help” you pick one, and you go along with it, then you’ve essentially chosen. Once you’ve chosen an attending physician, talk to that provider about the light duty work and whether it is appropriate for you. If your provider says it’s ok – do the work. When you’re hurting it is difficult to imagine, but staying at work connected to your work community, is a positive thing. It is better economically and emotionally, and recovery can be quicker. If your provider says no light duty, then you should receive time loss while you are off work. There is no automatic minimum time off to rest and recovery. And, unfortunately, there is no rule that your employer and coworkers have to be nice to you. Ignore them. Get a good physician. Concentrate on your recovery.

    • If you have work restrictions which are related to your industrial injury, and your employer cannot accommodate those restrictions, then you should continue receiving time loss benefits. However, it is in everyone’s best interest if you return to some type of work with the employer, if you are able to do so. There are also some incentives provided by the Department to employers, in the form of wage reimbursement, to encourage them to find light duty work for you.

  16. I was injuried at work a few months ago I reported it to work but I did not use there doc. Cause I did not want to drag this out 4ever. And I went back to work about 2 1/2 weeks ago and I think I went back to full duty way to soon I was wondering if they can put me on light duty if I have a doc note?

    • I don’t know what you mean when you say you ‘didn’t go to their doctor’, but if your claim is still open, get back to your physician as soon as possible. If the doctor places light duty restrictions on you, related to your injury, then the employer may provide light duty for you. Again, they are not required to provide light duty – but it is in their best interest to do so.

  17. What happens if u can’t return to work because you moved cities can’t you still receive ur benifits until you find new job to accommodates your restrictions

    • You do not receive benefits because of where you live – you receive them because you have restrictions related to your injury which prevent a return to work. If your physician has removed you from work you will continue to receive benefits regardless of where you live. However, if you have been released to your regular work or modified work which has been identified as available in the labor market where you were injured, then your benefits will stop.

  18. I got hurt at work in January 2013, I had a mri done n was told that I have a herrinated disc n a sprain lumbar, a doctor said I could go back to ligh duty my job finally found me light duty, the case they have me on isn’t light duty, but they say it is, ever since I been tryi g to do what I can I been in a lot of pain, the house is very un sanitize n able to get it clean it needs a really good cleaning I can’t do. The house is bad, i can’t do it anymore it way to much on my back can I turn the work down with out a doctors note, will that stop my workmans comp checks? . I have prove that the house isn’t in good shape nor light duty work? What should I do? By the way I’m a home health aide

    • Short answer – do not turn down light duty work without a Doctor’s note. At this point your physician has released you to perform specific light duty work. The only person who can enforce those light duty restrictions is you. If the employer asks you to do more than you are released to do, it is up to you to (politely) say no. Have your written restrictions or the light duty job description approved by your doctor with you in case there are any questions about what was approved. If you are limiting yourself to the light duty which was approved and are still having problems, talk to your doctor. You should only stop the light duty work if your physician tell you to, in writing.

  19. Hi my wife slipped on ice at work today and was sent to the doctor he told us that she had hurt her shoulder pretty bad and was going to require phisical therapy and he would not take her off work just light duty and would let her employer decide if they wanted to take her off work and pay her workers comp I thought it was the doctors decition to take her off work not there’s and this is the doctor they sent her to .

    • Assuming you are in Washington, the physician provides restrictions, the employer decides if they have work available within those restrictions. If they do, your wife should go to work. If they don’t, she’ll receive time loss to cover her lost wages while she is unable to work. If light duty work is offered which is approved by her physician and she turns it down, she will not receive time loss.

  20. i have been on workers comp since march of 2013 had shoulder surgery on dec 19th 2014. when I saw the dr last he put me out of work for 4 weeks which would be until feb 16th. my workplace called and said they called the dr and got him to change my note to light duty work with unrealistic restrictions of sitting only no overhead work and no lifting greater than 1 pound. I am unable to move my arm much. I can’t brush and fix my hair get dressed or do anything much on my own. I also would not be able to put on my required uniform. do I have any options or do I have to report to work and further injure myself getting my uniform on?

    • If your physician approved it – you have to do it, or risk losing your time loss benefits. If you are not able to do your daily care, then you should be discussing that with your physician.

  21. I got hurt at work on July 3, 2014 and had shoulder surgery on 12/23/14. From the onset of my injury in July to the time of surgery I worked full time. My boss was very hostile to me during those months and I’m scared to go back to a offered modified duty job. I have been off of work since surgery due to complications from that surgery and still in a lot of pain. My employer offered a modified job at a extreme lower rate that I can’t even support my self on . I’m under the impression my employer is trying to get me to quit by their bullying ways…..HELP!

    • If your employer offers you modified work, within your restrictions, and your attending medical provider approves the position, you should take the job. Your time loss benefits are going to stop, so you should take advantage of the offered light duty. If the modified work has lower wages then your regular work, you will be eligible for Loss of Earning Power benefits (LEP) while your claim is open.
      You are responsible for adhering to the restrictions and limitations placed on your return to work. If you are asked to perform work outside those restrictions, politely decline. Sometimes it is helpful to carry a copy of the approved job position, which will specify the job duties and restrictions.
      Your Employer does not have to be nice to you. Don’t let them bully you into leaving the modified work, you won’t be entitled to time loss benefits if you quit the job, or are fired for cause. Kill them with kindness. Be polite and respectful. Do your job. Concentrate on your recovery. Keep in mind you can look for, and accept, another job anytime you want. Having an open claim does not mean you are tied to that employer. It does mean the employer has the right to offer you modified. You cannot be forced to accept it, but the offer does effect your entitlement to time loss benefits.

  22. I got injured at work a heavy object fell on my foot and I’m currently on workers compensation. I was put on light duty but they have me walking around when I’m restricted to sitting down . I still have pain on my foot and leg and my question is can I get off light duty if the I tell the doctor I’m still in pain plus I have no time to schedule my physical therapy session because of the schedule they have me on and my only goal is to to do the sessions and get better what can I do I’ve never been in this situation.

    • I know it can be hard to do – but it is your job to enforce the light duty restrictions your medical provider has laid out. You have been released to return to work at a specific job, with specific duties and restrictions. If you are asked to do something outside those restrictions – politely decline. If it helps, keep a copy of your light duty job release in your pocket. If you have restrictions on how much standing and walking you can do, then work within those restrictions. Your medical provider is going to be hard pressed to pull you off light duty, when you can physically perform the job as it has been described. If you respectfully indicate you will only work within the restrictions placed on you, then your employer will be forced to provide work within those restrictions, or send you home. If the employer sends you home, then you will be eligible for time loss benefits.
      Call if you need help.

  23. My Husband got injured on the job. it was Washington State. His Employer was self insured. H got his hand mangled somehow in the back of a dump truck. He had a operation. His employer always showed up at his Doctor appts. They kept pressing the Doctor to get my Husband to work on light duty. The Doctor would not do it for a long time but finally gave in with lots of restrictions. While he was on light duty they fired him, They were all lies but there was no way to prove it, my Husband knew they were up to something before they actually fired him, He kept telling the counselor at L&I that he had a feeling they were going to try to fire him, So of course he didnt get the time loss because he was fired for cause. But he was fired on a friday and has another operation the following Tuesday, a month later he called L&I and said what do i do for money? I cant work! They decided to pay him the time loss …So he got time loss for another 10 months and still is getting it, Our vocational counsler has called them and asked if they wanted to hire him for light duty , ( not knowing the story of being fired for cause ) They were like ( no way! We will not hire him) Well in the mean time they very upset that he started getting time loss and the back pay to the date he had the operation! so they fought it, We were very concerned because that would have been like 20 thousand to pay back! well it got dismissed, they lost! So now the vocational counsler is working on getting him into schooling or just put him on a pension because he’s 50 years old. So needless to say the employer is super mad! So now they offered to hire him as a preferred worker! This is horrible! He cant use his right hand….He is right handed, and they are hiring him to rake and shovel; with his left hand only they say! This is horrible! They are just playing a game to fire him again and then the whole things over! They were so mean to him before and lied to get rid of him thinking that would get him off the workman’s comp thing! I could not even ask my Husband to go back there !We do have a lawyer…But We are no spring chickens, And i’m trying to educate myself to see what kind of rights we have, You would think that he should have some kind of right and not have to go back to a hostile environment, and oh! He was making $50 something a hour when he got hurt and the new job offer is $17.00 per hour! Wow! ! So do you have any information that could help us! Thanks for listening 🙂

    • I am going to urge you to talk to your attorney about all of your questions. Your attorney is there to answer your questions and to explain your rights and options. I will say, you are asking the right questions – but your attorney knows the details of your specific situation and is in the best position to provide answers.

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