Why You Should Be Careful About Light Duty Work

You were injured on the job. You filed a workers’ compensation claim and began receiving benefits. Now your employer is working to get you back on the payroll while you recover.

At first glance, this seems well enough: Your employer talks to your doctor and finds a less strenuous position that lets you work and allows you to heal.

Known as “light duty work,” this job can be an existing position, or your employer can create one that is less physically demanding than your regular job—and fits the restrictions your doctor has placed on your ability to work.

It’s billed as a “win-win” by Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I): You start earning income and benefits, and your boss starts getting back lost productivity from when you went out with an injury.

But you need to be careful. Light duty work has some red flags that could signal trouble for your workers’ comp benefits and future working life.

Having an experienced L&I lawyer by your side helps you avoid traps that come with light duty work. With a workers’ comp attorney, you can make sure you receive the maximum workers’ comp benefits available to keep you stable, secure and healthy.

At the Bothwell & Hamill law firm, we help people in Yakima, Kennewick, Sunnyside, Richland, Pasco, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Walla Walla and across Central Washington. We know L&I law and how to protect you and your livelihood.

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What Does it Mean When You’re on Light Duty Work in Washington State?

When you can’t work because of an injury or work-related illness and you file for L&I benefits, you begin to collect time-loss compensation, which is meant to help replace your lost wages.

For your employer, however, this spells a higher insurance rate for workers’ compensation coverage.

As a tactic to lower that rate, L&I established its “Stay At Work” program, which offers light duty work as an incentive for employers to get employees back on the payroll in some capacity.

There are some rules to legal, qualified light duty work:

  1. First, your claim for L&I workers’ comp must be legitimate and you must have real limitations on your ability to work. In other words, you must be unable to perform certain tasks you could before your injury or illness.
  2. Your employer must offer you in writing an existing position or create a new one that involves duties other than the ones you can’t do according to your claim.
  3. The attending physician who manages your claim and your recovery must approve the job description.

Light duty work, when successful, can be good for both the employer and employee.

For you, it could mean staying connected to your colleagues or teammates and encouraging you to get better and eventually back to the job you had before.

For your employer, it can mean reimbursement of up to half of your new wages and some of the costs associated with retraining you for a light duty assignment.

But there is also opportunity for abuse—especially with employers using light duty work to drive off employees rather than treat them humanely.

They can also use light duty work to kick you off workers’ comp benefits. If the light duty job meets your doctor’s requirements, you must accept the job or lose benefits.

If you suspect you’re facing discrimination or hostile treatment regarding light duty work and your L&I claim, the workers’ compensation lawyers at Bothwell & Hamill can stand up for you.

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How Can Light Duty Work Go Wrong?

While light duty can seem like a great way to empower and value employees who want to work, don’t forget what its practical impact is: It’s a state incentive program to get employers to return employees to their payroll—and get them off L&I benefits to reduce insurance costs.

You worked hard and earned your workers’ compensation benefits, and the last thing you need is someone finding a loophole to chip away at the support you deserve.

Abuse of the light duty process can pop up in several ways:

  • Your employer could put you in a dead-end job where you perform menial, useless tasks all day.
  • Your employer may steadily ratchet up your duties beyond the work you’re able to do with your health restrictions.
  • Worse, you may face intimidation or harassment from your manager or colleagues for sticking to the medical limitations established by your doctor.

That shaming could be a means to get you to quit—or start doing work that disqualifies you for L&I benefits even if it’s bad for your health—eliminating a major cost for your employer.

Don’t let them chase you away from benefits you deserve. If you can’t work because of your job injury, you should be getting workers’ comp benefits, not getting forced back to work.

At Bothwell & Hamill, we can help you through every step of the workers’ compensation process, from your first application to the moment you return to work.

We know how L&I works in Washington State, and we’ve seen it all when it comes to employers trying to take advantage of the system.

Let us protect you from light duty red flags and lay a foundation for real recovery and a stronger future.

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More Questions?

You might have a lot of questions. Bothwell & Hamill has answers.

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Yakima client happy after winning worker's comp with the help of Tim Hamill

I appreciate that Mr. Hamill took my case when the other attorneys in the area would not. He has helped me obtain the funds due me from L&I.”


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