Light-Duty Work and Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law

If an employee heals enough to return to their job, but not enough to take on all their pre-injury responsibilities, creating a light-duty work arrangement may be necessary. In this situation, the employee gets to go back to work but can only perform modified or non-strenuous tasks. Before the worker does this, they need to get clearance from their doctor. They would continue to work closely with their physician to monitor their progress. Doing this helps the worker ease back into this activity while limiting the chance of re-injury. Employees may (but don’t always) continue to receive benefits when they go back to work. Those who experience a second injury or a worsening of the first may qualify for new or additional compensation. 

Returning to work is a big decision that can impact your settlement and health. At Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo, we help clients make this transition in a way that protects them, physically and financially. Our Pennsylvania workers’ compensation lawyers are leaders in their fields who have done incredible work for those with job injuries. Because of our advocacy spanning from the 1930s to today, hundreds of thousands of workers received settlements to help them support their families. 

What Is Light-Duty Work?

Light-duty work is where the employer modifies the employee’s responsibilities to accommodate a job-related injury. For example, someone with a sprained ankle might do tasks that only require them to sit down at a desk. If done right, these arrangements allow workers to adjust to physical activity without overdoing it and hurting themselves again. 

But before returning to work, the employee should speak to their treating physician. If the doctor says their impairment rating is low enough for them to go back to work, they can start developing a plan to do so. When this occurs, the physician would also describe the tasks the worker can safely perform. The employee and their employer would use this information to develop a safe, light-duty work plan. If, at any point, the doctor says the worker cannot do their job, they would have to stay home and heal again. 

What Are Examples of Light or Modified Job Duties?

A modified or light job duty arrangement can look very different from one situation to the next. Examples of non-strenuous responsibilities include the following:

  • Performing inventory checks, 
  • Working at an office desk, 
  • Placing orders,
  • Answering phone calls and emails, and
  • Supervisory roles. 

In addition to the above, the employer might reduce the worker’s hours or allow them to take more or longer rest breaks. If the employee experiences pain or discomfort, they should notify their employer. To prevent further injury, they may change their job duties again or take more time off to rest. 

What Are the Light-Duty Work Laws in Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania law, employees can return to work on a light-duty or modified basis once they receive clearance from their doctor. Workers who start doing jobs before their physician gives them the all-clear may put their claim at risk. For example, the insurance company may decide they no longer qualify for benefits. Or the insurer may reduce the weekly payments based on what the injured worker is earning. 

If a doctor gives the worker clearance to return to the office, but they don’t feel ready, they can challenge this decision. They might accomplish this by getting a second opinion from a qualified physician. Or, in some cases, they can appeal the insurer’s decision to deny benefits based on a doctor’s evaluation. 

How Does Light-Duty Work Impact Your Job-Injury Settlement?

If a doctor determines that you can work another job or return to your old one, it can impact your compensation. By law, once the insurance company receives word that you can go back to work, they can send you a notice requiring you to return to the office or find another job. How this impacts your settlement depends on whether you earn more or less than before the injury. 

If You Earn More Than You Did Before You Were Hurt

If you make more than you did before you got hurt, you may lose your right to benefits. In many cases, the insurance company won’t immediately stop paying benefits. Instead, they would send you prior notice so you know the situation. That said, there may be circumstances where the insurance company may stop paying you compensation and not give you advance notice. 

If You Earn Less Than Before the Injury

If you make less money than before, you may still receive benefits. However, depending on what type of benefits you were getting, the insurance company may reduce the amount. This might mean that you receive a percentage of the difference between your pre-injury wages and your current earning power. But keep in mind that you can’t make more than a similarly situated colleague who does not have a work injury. Likewise, your right to receive benefits after returning to work isn’t guaranteed. 

If Your Employer Offers You Light-Duty Work, Do You Have to Take It?

You may not have to accept your employer’s offer to come back to work on a light or modified basis. But that doesn’t mean you’ll receive the same benefits as before. If your employer is basing this decision on your doctor’s recommendations, the fact that you can work may impact your benefits. By law, insurance companies don’t always have to keep paying employees who can or choose to work again after an injury. So, while you can refuse your employer’s light-duty work offer, it may not be in your best interest if your physician says you’re ready to go back. 

But if your doctor didn’t give you clearance to return to your old job (even at a reduced capacity), you may be able to reject your employer’s offer. It depends on your unique situation and what led your employer to offer you the position. 

What Happens If You Get Reinjured After You Return to Work?

One of the risks of taking on light-duty tasks while you heal is that you may be reinjured after returning to work. While this can undoubtedly occur, fortunately, Pennsylvania has a subsequent injury fund that covers employees who get reinjured after they try working again. Additionally, the insurance company might still cover your medical bills and pay you benefits as they did before. But, you should notify your employer about the re-injury and file the appropriate documents to submit a claim. Similar deadlines apply to this one and for the initial claim, so be sure to tell your employer as soon as possible. 

Krasno, Krasno & Onwudinjo: Fierce Workers’ Comp Lawyers Serving Pennsylvania

The decision to return to work is an important one. If done right, it can allow you to keep some of your benefits while empowering you to work again. If done too hastily, you risk reinjuring yourself. While a second injury may not jeopardize your right to benefits, it can lengthen your road to recovery. If your employer offers you light-duty work or you’re considering returning to your job, you might want to talk to an experienced lawyer about your options. 

For three generations, Jason Krasno’s family has served injured coal miners, teachers, truck drivers, steel workers, and others who are hurt on the job. When you partner with us, you don’t just get one person; you get a team of qualified professionals fighting for you. From an attorney to a client care coordinator to a paralegal, we give you all the support you need to get medical care and get you through the claims process. We can’t promise it’ll be easy, but we are committed to helping our clients get every penny they deserve under Pennsylvania law. 

If you have questions about light-duty work, contact us by calling 844-243-4823 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced attorney. 


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