One phrase that is thrown around in the world of workers’ compensation is “light duty.” Light duty refers to a job done by an injured worker while they are on work restrictions. However “light duty” isn’t always light duty if the employee physically struggles with doing their light-duty job. To me, light duty can be a misleading description of what injured workers go through when working alternate-duty jobs. Here are three situations where I think the term light duty is misleading.
1. Employee forced to work without restrictions with one limb when the other limb is restricted. This is common in the meatpacking industry with hand, wrist and arm injuries, and I have seen it in construction as well. Employers read work restrictions too literally and force employees to work unrestricted with the uninjured hand or arm. Unfortunately, the result of this is that the other arms or hand can get injured through overcompensation or overuse. This can lead to another and/or a larger workers’ compensation claim, which also leads to more medical expenses, pain, suffering and inconvenience for the injured workers and their families.
2. Doctor-given restrictions do not really reflect true physical restrictions. This can happen for a couple of reasons. One reason is that a doctor might not know the “light duty” job description. To remedy this, the employee needs to be clear about telling the doctor what his or her actual duties are so the doctor can give accurate job restrictions. Having a written job description is extremely helpful. If management makes it difficult for you to get a copy of your job description, this should indicate that you need to contact a lawyer and that the company may be discriminating against you because of your injury. Second, the doctor may be unduly influenced by an employer or insurer. In Nebraska, we have doctor-choice rights as part of our workers’ compensation act. In other states, attorneys have filed RICO suits against unlawful combinations of employers, insurers and doctors who conspired to undercut the value of workers’ compensation claims. If you feel you are being treated unfairly by a doctor, you should contact an experienced attorney to see what your options are.
3. Work restrictions are difficult to measure. Work restrictions are usually measured by lifting and so-called “non-material handling” activities like walking, bending, climbing, etc. This can exclude a whole host of other restrictions, like noise tolerance, heat and cold sensitivity, as well as dust and chemical sensitivity, which can make a job difficult. Some serious restrictions can also defy easy attempts to measure them. Someone suffering the permanent effects of a head injury may get periodic headaches and sickness that force them to leave work on an irregular basis. This kind of restriction is difficult to measure during a medical examination or even in a functional capacity evaluation, but it certainly impacts someone’s ability to hold a job.