Returning to work on “light duty” could put you at risk

Did you return to work after an injury on light duty? Did you get back to work only to be confronted with “light duties” that:

  • Consist of pointless “busy work?”
  • Are used as thinly veiled punishment for reporting a work injury or pursuing a work injury lawsuit against your employer?
  • Ignore your doctor’s recommendations or open the risk of making your injury and recovery worse?

If so, you’re not alone. In an ideal world, injured workers would be able to work closely with their medical providers to determine when to return to work and what restrictions they might be under while they continue to recover. In reality, though, many employers try to force injured employees back into “light duty” positions before they’re really ready or use their medical restrictions against them. If it seems as though your employer is using your return to light duty against you, it’s time to start finding out the truth about your rights.

What light duty after a work injury should be

Ideally, an employee might transition back to light duty when he or she has reached a point in recovery where it makes sense to do so—and only his or her doctor should be able to say when that is. The employer would then help the employee transition into a light-duty position that adheres to medical restrictions, and the employee would be able to communicate clearly and honestly throughout the process. 

What light duty for injured workers often is

Although you may hope that your return to work will be handled as a straightforward, administrative process, the truth is that some employers or supervisors use light-duty restrictions to punish injured employees or even carry out personal grudges. In some extreme cases, demeaning or pointless light duties may even be used to try to make you walk away from the job so that they have grounds to fire you.

Additionally, some employers firmly believe that, if they make light-duty positions too pleasant, injured employees will start making up excuses to remain on light duty. Instead of working with you to find duties that simply meet your doctor’s restrictions, some employers may specifically assign you to boring, unpleasant, or punishing tasks. Some employers might pressure you to come back to work before you’re ready or before you’ve been cleared by your doctor. Sometimes, the reality is that your employer will ignore your medical restrictions entirely once you are back on the job, which may put you at risk for an “intervening injury,” or a second injury that happens after you’ve already been hurt at work.  

Although injured workers put in these kinds of position are often fully aware that their employers are taking advantage of them, they’ve often also been put in a vulnerable financial position by their injuries and fear they might lose their jobs for speaking out. However, the truth is that injured workers struggling with light-duty issues may have legal options to stop the abuse and start protecting their rights.

Your employer doesn’t have to invent a “light duty” position

Your employer can’t force you to return to work before you and your doctor agree that you’re ready, but some employers take advantage of injured employees by inventing positions that don’t serve any purpose except to punish the injured employee or make sure they’re at work even though they’ve been seriously hurt. This is frustrating for the men and women who have been hurt at work and are simply trying to recover as best they can.

However, you should know that your employer does not have to invent a pointless “light duty” position just because your doctor has given a long list of restrictions that keep you from performing your normal duties. In many cases, being under so many restrictions for returning to “light duty” is a good indicator that the injured worker honestly needs more time to heal before realistically attempting to get back on the job.

Steps for protecting yourself if you’re considering returning to work on light duty

If you are offered a light-duty position while you are still recovering from a work injury, here are some steps you should take to make sure you are protecting yourself:

  • Talk to your doctor. Your doctor—not your employer—has the ultimate say in when and how you are able to return to work. If the question is starting to come up, make sure you open the discussion with your doctor about how it might impact your health and recovery and if it’s the right time.
  • Get it in writing. As you talk with your employer about returning to light duty, make sure you nail down what will be expected in the position and get a job description in writing. It’s simply too risky to wait until you’ve already committed to find out that a light-duty position just isn’t workable with your injuries. Don’t forget to also discuss how any medication might affect your return to work
  • Talk to your doctor again. Once you understand the kinds of light-duty tasks you’ll be performing, take the job description to your doctor and talk over any potential concerns.
  • Consult with an attorney. Seriously injured workers may face many tricks and traps as they transition back to work, and they aren’t always getting the full story about what their rights really are. By reaching out to an attorney who has hands-on experience with work injury cases, you can ensure that you have the information and support you need to make confident choices about returning to work on light duty.

Take control of your return to work after an injury

Are you feeling overwhelmed with the pressure from your employer after an injury? You are not alone. Here are two real-life stories about workers who also struggled with light-duty restrictions after an injury and what they did to get the help they needed:

Before you’re tempted to refuse the pointless, demeaning, dangerous, or punishing work you’ve been offered after an injury, get informed—and get help. While, in many cases, employers are breaking or bending the rules, you can still make serious mistakes if you don’t meet the problem armed with real information about your rights and how to protect yourself. Some employers, insurance adjusters, company representatives, company doctors, and others intentionally mislead or abuse injured employees, and the real answers to your questions about your work injury may come as a surprise.

Although specific answers depend on the specific details in your case, many injured workers do have options if they feel they are being “bullied” or “punished” by the light-duty work they’ve been assigned. In fact, it’s not even all that unusual for seriously injured workers to be unfairly asked to return to work and perform pointless or “invented” duties while they are still in tremendous pain, taking medications, and severely limited by their work injuries.

If you have any questions about “light duty” requirements or returning to work after an injury, don’t hesitate to reach out for legal advice. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping injured workers protect their rights, stop the abuse, and get the compensation they need after they’ve been hurt. Call VB Attorneys at 1-877-724-7800 for more answers and a free case review.


Vuk Stevan Vujasinovic
Experienced Injury Lawyer. First Generation American. Life-Long Texan. Husband. Father.