Light Duty Trap

In a previous post I encouraged you to have an open mind if your employer offers light duty work while you are recovering from your injury. It is generally a good thing to remain connected to your employer and the work force.


I touch on this topic again to alert you to the down side of  light duty work. If you are working light duty, your employer can still fire you for cause. If you are fired for cause, you do not receive time loss benefits. The employer will argue light duty work was available for you, but because of your own actions you are no longer working. Time loss is not payable, since it is not your injury which is preventing you from working and receiving a paycheck.


The most common scenario is a worker who does not call in to report an absence while on light duty. Most employers have a call in policy of one sort or another, some less strictly enforced then others. But I promise, if you violate these internal company polices while on light duty, you will find yourself out of a job, light duty or otherwise.


There is also the occasional horror story of an employer and co-workers treating a worker on light duty so poorly, that the light duty worker gets fed up and quits the job. Again, no time loss is payable, as the reason the worker is not collecting a paycheck has nothing to do with the work injury. I often tell my clients, your employer does not have to be nice to you.


The lesson here is to mind your P’s and Q’s. Follow company rules to the letter, even if no one else does. Walk away from taunts and mocking. Enforce the written restrictions from your medical provider. If your employer is one of the good guys, light duty work will be a valuable bridge during your recovery. If your employer is not on the up and up, the light duty job will evaporate just as quickly as it materialized. If the employer indicates they no longer have light duty work for you, at least your time loss benefits will immediately restart.

13 thoughts on “Light Duty Trap

  1. My son was injuried on the job with a moving company. He sustained an injury to his back they call a strain/sprain. He has been through physical therapy feeling worse then before the treatment. He was then treated by a chiropractor
    which was a temporary fix. He has a VRC who tried to find him employable as a fast food counter worker and not only can he not stand for 8 hrs. he ha no experience in that field. Now they are trying to say he can deliver pizzas and his PCE under trunk rotation both sitting and standing says never. In order to drive you have to rotate @ the trunk unless you never turn to drive properly. This has been going on for almost 2 years and his condition is worse than it was @ the time of injury. Any suggestions?

  2. Hire an attorney. I am not being flip – you have just reached the end of being able to manage this claim yourselves. Your son might want to consider seeing a Physiatrist – a physical medicine rehabilitation physician. This type of medical provider can make sure he is getting the proper treatment for his injury, and can properly assess his level of functioning and careful review the job analyses which I am sure are flying around. Your son’s PPD (permanent partial disability) award is not likely to be high, given his diagnosis, so it is important to try and get as much vocational assistance as possible to help him return to the work force. Get help. While an attorney can never guarantee an outcome, a good attorney will make sure your son gets the benefits he is entitled to receive, and that is really all we can ask out of the system, isn’t it?

  3. My son had another IME with a doctor who also did one in 2008. This doctor used have a practice who used to be an injured workers doctor who would say no one could work that he was treating. Now he has flipped to the other side and states that my son is faking his injury and can work in any capacity, but did rate him a category 1 for cervical-dorsal impairment. This doctor shouldn’t be able to practice, not only is he unethical but he pulls a stick pin out of a draw & uses it to stick you & everyone else who is lucky enough to be sent to him. Is there anything I can do about this doctor? I know you want me to bring an attorney in but we just cannot afford one & I’m scared that my son is going to crack, he has no coping skills left since he has been injured. I believe he has signs of PTSD.

    • If your son has legitimate complaints about the IME physician who evaluated him he can and should write a letter to the Medical Director of the Department. The Department takes complaints seriously, and will investigate where appropriate. That said, these evaluations often come to conclusions much different from those of the worker’s attending medical provider. I suggest your son take a copy of the exam report to his Doctor, and ask the physician to provide a detailed response, focusing on objective findings on exam which are consistently noted by the attending provider, and missed or downplayed by the IME physician. Your son’s physician can also request a psychiatric consultation if there are concerns that mental health issues may be related to the injury, or may be delaying or retarding recovery. And, yes, I am going to encourage your son to get an attorney. Sometimes it is just what is necessary to protect the worker’s rights, and insure he receives the benefits and treatment he is entitled to under the statute.

  4. how do I find a good attorney that will work in his best behalf? I’ve had several attorney’s where I ended up doing most the work myself and never got good results. These people are going to close his claim basied on an x-ray and x-rays don’t show muscle damage. Even his a/p is falling for that one and I’ve tried to find a doctor that treats just muscles and they don’t exist apparently. Inow there are good attorney’s out there I just haven’t had any luck finding one.

    • I really hope all is getting better with your son…I know the frustration of dealing with the department and the IME folks! It is horrible to have to go through…May I make a suggestion if you have not found an attorney? The attorney’s web page that you are visiting now…would be an excellent place to start…I think you would be making a good choice…I have another attorney am using (she is about worthless) Even though I am not a client of Welch and Condon…They have been willing to point me in the right direction and answer any questions I have either here in the blog or by phone and always in a timely manner…not to mention what other attorney do you know that would post advice to people on a case by case basis for free???(this website) most attorney’s that I have ever met will only help you for a fee. This tells me that they are here to help and it isn’t all about the money I would say that is a good place to start..I wish you and your son the best… I hope he gets the treatment and compensation he deserves!

      • I have one mantra I recite when someone calls me who is already represented by an attorney. “Call your attorney”. Most of the time there is a simple communication problem. Schedule a face to face meeting with the attorney, or at least a phone conference. Have a list of questions and listen to the answers. Sometimes you are not getting an answer, which is a problem. Sometimes you are getting an answer, but it isn’t what you want to hear, which is an all together different kind of problem. I probably have taken the time to help a caller figure out what questions to ask. It only takes a few minutes to get someone focused on the right issues so they can have a more productive conversation with their attorney. I know and respect a whole lot of attorneys who do workers comp claims. We tend to be a tight knit group and help each other when we can. That said, not all attorney client relationships work out. If after a conference you decide you are not getting the help you want, you can terminate the relationship and you are free to look elsewhere for legal help. But, take the time and effort to exhaust your options with the attorney you have already hired and who knows your case.

  5. Thank you for the advise, but I haven’t hired an attorney for my son due to financial issues. This is so beyond frustrating that the only was to be heard and treated you have to hire an attorney. Right now I’m more concerned about my sons mental health since his injury. My son has seen first hand what happened to me with an attorney who didn’t do much to help me, but was very well paid for almost no work on his part. I am disabled due to my prior employment with the government. My son & I have very little faith in the system and the amount of money wasted trying repeatedly to send the same JA’s to his MD. I have no idea how the VRC’s company in still in business, they have gone beyond what is right trying to right him off and forced into a position as a part time pizza delivery, and they won’t accept that the restrictions his has don’t meet the reqirements to perform the work person, the job at the time of injury was full time and he also isn’t getting anything close to what he should be getting. This has been dragged out for over 2 yrs. The money the dept. is wasting trying not to retrain him is only hurting him and making his chances of returning to any type of gainful employment. One thing I don’t get at all is how they can force him into a part time position when he was working full time @ the time of his injury. I’m really trying to understand how the voc. people stay in business when they have made so many mistakes. With so many people out of work you would think they could hire competant people.

  6. Your blog about the light-duty trap is so true, especially the part about being harassed at work. You’re right – employers do not have to be nice, and in my case they aren’t!

    I am extremely frustrated and disappointed that workers here in Washington have no recourse against this type of employer.

    I was injured on 12/3/09, and subsequently I’ve put up with more hostility and verbal abuse in the past weeks than I’ve ever experienced in 35 years of working.

    I don’t dare quit this job because (obviously) nobody will hire a worker with medical restrictions. I can’t sue the employer, even though I was acting on their specific instructions which caused my initial back injury and a more severe re-injury only two weeks later.

    I am now confined to a minimum-wage light-duty job in a negative, hostile environment and cannot further my career in health care, nor seek better employment until this L&I claim is closed. Ongoing treatment will likely last many, many more months.

    Thanks to my employer, vicious co-workers, L&I and Washington’s “no fault” laws, the quality of my life now ranks somewhere between zero and zilch.

  7. Dear Sammye Squyres:
    I do believe you can sue your employer for future lost wages, but the attorney I had for myself was as dumb as a rock. I was involved in politics @ the time I was told that so you might want to try & talk to your State Representative on that issue. Working in a hostile work environmnet is tricky you need specific examples with the dates & times of the harassment & a witness is always helpful. I just did a search for what is a hostile work envrionment & got some info there, I think you can also get info from employment securities or through your human resources department if your employer has one. It’s like filing a complaint for sexual harassment & they can be a real pain in the backside. I wish you luck of luck, it’s been over two years now since my son was injured and it’s still a mess. If things don’t start to look better soon we will have to hire an attorney most likely someone from this site, they seem to be helpful & know what they are talking about. Some attorney’s don’t care what happens to you & you end up doing most of the work & they still take a lot of money that they shouldn’t get. There is some hope but it sounds like you have a way to go before this is over. It’s really a shame that you go to work & do your job & get hurt & your life is never the same, but the dept. doesn’t care about that and if you ever have the chance to read the medical aid rules it tells you that is what L&I was put together in the first place. Take Care & Good Luck.

  8. If I was not hurt at work can I still go on light duty? Also if my employer does not have any light duty work can I collect unemployment? I live in PA

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