When an employee is injured on the job and accessing Workers’ Compensation (WC) benefits, the attending physician may allow him or her to return to work, but with certain limitations and restrictions. In many cases, an employer will accommodate the worker by offering light-duty work. Compared to the normal duties of the job, light-duty work is meant to be less physically and mentally demanding and allows an employee to get back to work in some capacity while recovering.
In most states, an employee has the legal option of declining a light-duty position. In this case, the employee can elect to remain on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protected leave until he or she is cleared to return to full-capacity work or when the FMLA limit has been exhausted. Simply put, an employee isn’t required to return to a light-duty position if the job offered is not the same as or equivalent to the job the employee had before going on leave. However, if an employee does turn down a light-duty position and opts to remain on FMLA leave, he or she may not be entitled to collect WC benefits.
An employee who is willing to accept a light-duty position or returns to work before the FMLA leave entitlement ends is legally entitled to return to his or her original job or a similar position. The time an employee spends in a light-duty position will not count against FMLA leave entitlement.
If an employee is unable to return to work or remains on a light-duty assignment after FMLA leave runs out, he or she will no longer have job protection under the FMLA. If the employee’s illness or injury qualifies as a disability, the worker may be able to receive benefits for possible financial assistance or job protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act or WC laws and regulations in his or her state.
If an employee is being paid temporary total disability because the employer cannot accommodate a light-duty assignment, the employee can substitute sick or vacation days or disability leave with pay in place of FMLA leave, but not if he or she is receiving WC benefits.
This information provides a high-level overview of WC benefits as they pertain to light-duty work assignments and the FMLA. There are other situations where an employee on FMLA leave may be entitled to additional benefits while absent, depending on workplace policies and the individual circumstances surrounding other forms of leave.
We serve a broad spectrum of businesses and industries, providing Workers’ Compensation for operations with debit and high experience mods, new ventures with no mods and multistate exposures, as well as excess markets for companies that self-insure.
To learn more, please contact Todd Pollock at email@example.com, or 508-625-3547.
For more on this topic, please see our previous blog: Workers’ Compensation: What Your Employer Clients Need to Know About Light-Duty Work Assignments