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Light Duty Rights & Requirements

Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC July 28, 2022

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) reports that employees who are injured and out on leave are less likely to return to work the longer they’re out. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that employers lose upwards of $40 billion annually due to absenteeism.

Employers nationwide generally are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to pay for medical and recovery expenses for employees who suffer workplace-related injuries or illnesses and to compensate them for time missed from work. With just a few exceptions, Alaska mandates that employers with one or more employees carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Many employers thus institute return-to-work programs that involve shifting injured workers to lighter duty while they recover. This has many benefits for both employer and employee. In 2013, the State of Alaska inaugurated its Light Duty Return to Work Program for state employees, which allow injured employees to resume working but with “reasonable accommodations” for 24 weeks.

If you’re a workers’ compensation benefits recipient in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, or Palmer, Alaska, whose doctor informs you that you’re cleared to return to work with certain restrictions, what do you do? What if your employer asks you to return, but to a position less demanding than your previous one? Should you accept? Will you still receive workers’ compensation benefits?

For the answer to these and other workers’ compensation questions, or to get legal help if you disagree with a workers’ compensation decision, contact the Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC. We are strong advocates for your rights under Alaska’s workers’ compensation system and can help you resolve whatever question or situation you’re facing. We proudly represent clients in Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, and Palmer, Alaska.

Common Light Duty Restrictions

If you return to light duty, your attending doctor’s assessment of what you can and cannot do should be strictly observed. If your physician prohibits you from standing for more than 15 minutes, that has to be part of the light duty restrictions. Likewise, if you are not allowed to lift boxes or anything weighing more than 20 pounds, that has to be observed.

In addition, if you need a reasonable accommodation to carry out the functions of the position you’re being assigned, that accommodation must be factored in. Your condition, for instance, may require that your workspace be larger than usual to accommodate your limited physical ability to move about.

Overall, a light duty assignment could be to a completely different position than you held prior to your injury, or it may be your old position with new restrictions and accommodations in place.

Can You Turn Down a Light Duty Assignment?

Generally speaking, if you turn down a light duty assignment without justification, your workers’ compensation benefits can be eliminated. However, if the assignment breaches the restrictions set by your physician, you should decline and begin a dialogue to have your restrictions honored if your insurer or employer wishes you to return to work before you’re fully recovered. Always check with an experienced attorney.

Will My Workers’ Compensation Benefits Continue on Light Duty?

While you’re out on workers’ compensation and recovering at home, the system will pay you a portion of your wages as benefits. If you qualify for temporary partial disability (TPD), you will receive 80 percent of your previous wages.

If you return to light duty and paid your full pre-injury salary, you will not receive a workers’ compensation wage replacement. If, however, your new position pays less, you are entitled to TPD compensation for your wages, but your compensation might be calculated at 80 percent of the difference between your current salary and previous salary.

Turn to Experience You Can Trust

If you’re being asked to return to light duty, you must confer with your doctor and make sure all restrictions are being honored, but you may also want to get legal guidance on your rights and your employer’s responsibilities.

We at the Law Office of Justin S. Eppler, LLC are dedicated to helping you receive your full rights and benefits under Alaska’s workers’ compensation system. We know the law, and all the administrative and legal procedures necessary to protect your interests.

Reach out immediately with any workers’ compensation questions or pending actions that you may wish to understand or even challenge. We proudly serve clients in Anchorage, including Fairbanks, Juneau, Wasilla, and Palmer, Alaska.