When your doctor releases you to go back to work after a work injury, your employer may offer you a light duty job. If you have been injured, you probably want to get better and go back to work as quickly as possible. Sometimes, though, you may be asked to come back too soon or to do a job that is too hard for you.
If your employer offers you a light duty job, it is important to understand how this affects your rights. Many times, trying the light duty job will likely mean the difference between getting a check and not.
Besides the immediate effect this will have on your family’s weekly income, it can impact your entire workers’ compensation claim. There are a few things you need to know to avoid potential traps that could damage your case.
Until 2013, the law in Georgia was very simple regarding an attempt to return to work. The insurance company could cut off your benefits when you were properly offered a light duty job, but your benefits were reinstated if you were unable to do the job and stopped the job within fifteen days.
Rules of Light Duty Job Offers
Many insurance companies will try to get your doctor to release you to return to light duty work. Then, they try to get your employer to offer work within the doctor’s limitations.
Getting well and getting back to work is in your best interest, but be careful. There are dangers lurking here that you need to consider, especially when your employer follows the rules laid out in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-240 and Board Rule 240.
These rules call for the employer to use forms provided by the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation including:
- A form WC-240A (a job description submitted to your treating physician for approval), and
- A form WC-240 (the actual notice that the light duty job is being offered).
Should I Attempt the Light Duty Job
The insurance company might stop your workers’ compensation benefit check if you do not try the job. O.C.G.A. §34-9-240 provides that an insurance company may suspend benefits immediately if you refuse suitable work that is offered to you on the specified Georgia State Board forms.
In most case, trying the job is your best option. If you try the job for more than eight (8) hours but have to stop it after less than fifteen (15) scheduled work days, the law requires the insurance company to restart your workers’ compensation checks immediately.
The insurance company can still contest your right to further workers’ compensation benefits. But, they must file for a hearing with a judge who will decide whether the job that has been offered to you is suitable. The important difference is that you should receive your check while you are waiting on your court date.
If you don’t try the light duty job and they suspend your benefits, you probably will not have any income until a judge rules in your favor (many months later). Because trying the light duty job will likely mean the difference between getting a check and not, it is usually in your best interests to try the job and see if you can do it.
If you are able to do the job, you should get full pay instead of the reduced weekly amount that workers’ compensation pays. Sometimes, the light duty job will pay a reduce rate. In that situation, you should get temporary partial disability benefits.
What if I cannot work eight hours?
Until 2013, Georgia’s law did not have a minimum time requirement for trying the job. The Georgia legislature changed the law in 2013 to create this requirement.
This change creates potential pitfalls for injured workers who are not up to date on the law. First, many light duty job offers are not for “full time” work. Your employer may offer you a shift that is less than eight hours per day.
In this situation, you will have to report to work more than one day to meet the eight hour requirement. That can be a problem. If the first day causes increased pain, you may not be able to work the next day.
Unfortunately, the law does not provide an exception in that situation. Also, the law is not entirely clear about what hours at work count. The safest route would exclude break and lunch times when counting the eight hours. This way, your employer or their insurance company will have less opportunity to dispute the sufficiency of the attempt.
How To Avoid the Pitfalls When Returning to a Light Duty Job
This is a highly technical and tricky area of Georgia workers’ compensation law. It is important to know what your options are before you actually return to attempt the light duty job.
You should consult with a workers compensation attorney as soon as you become aware that your employer wants to bring you back to work on light duty. Every step in this process can affect whether you will continue to receive benefits or not.
The law requires the insurance company to follow certain rules. Our workers’ compensation attorneys find that employers and insurance companies sometimes do not follow all these steps.