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 workers’ compensation check and not getting one.
Besides the immediate effect this will have on your family’s weekly income and ability to pay your bills, 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.
Rules of Light Duty Job Offers
Many insurance companies will try to get your doctor to say you can return to light duty work as soon as possible. Sometimes, they will try to get the doctor to say you could go back to light duty work the same day you had surgery.
If the insurance company succeeds in getting the doctor to release you to light duty work, they try to get your employer to offer a job they claim is within the doctor’s limitations. Unfortunately, the light duty job that is offered to you will sometimes not really be suitable. It may require you to do more than your doctor wants.
You want to get better and get back to work, 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.
What are these rules in O.C.G.A. §34-9-240 and Board Rule 240?
O.C.G.A. §34-9-240 and Board Rule 240 are special procedures set up under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law for your employer to offer you a light duty job. These procedures determine whether you will get a workers’ compensation check or not when you try a light duty job but cannot continue doing it.
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).
When the insurance company uses these forms, you have to be very careful. Failing to follow the rules can result in you not receiving a workers’ compensation check for many months while you wait to go to court about your case.
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 the insurance company stops your check, 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 reduced rate. In that situation, you should get temporary partial disability benefits.
What if I know I will not be able to do the light duty job?
You may be familiar with the “light duty” job being offered by your employer. Sometimes, it is not really a light duty job. Sometimes, the job description your employer gave the doctor is not accurate.
Do you need to attempt the job if you know you are not going to be able to perform it? Before the change in the law in 2013, the answer was easier. It was almost always best to just try the job.
If you were only able to do the job for an hour or two before not being able to continue, that time was still considered attempting the job. But the change in the law in 2013, which is discussed in the next section, made that analysis more complicated.
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 eight hour requirement.
This change created potential problems 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.
Also, what if you go in to try the job but just cannot make it eight hours? Does this mean the insurance company does not restart your check and you have wait to go to court before your check gets restarted?
The 2013 change in the law combined created some very complicated situations when combined with the other special procedures of O.C.G.A. §34-9-240 and Board Rule 240. There are solutions, but the best solution requires a good understanding of the law as well as an analysis of the particular facts of your case.
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.
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.
Since very step in this process can affect whether you will continue to receive workers’ compensation income benefits, 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.