Light Duty Work
Your employer may make you an offer of light duty work while you recover from your workers’ compensation injury. Your employer cannot offer you any light duty position. Instead, they must offer you employment which is suitable to you and your work capabilities.
Light duty work is related to your medical treatment and the recommendations of your medical providers. The insurance carrier must authorize reasonably necessary treatment for your compensable injuries. You are considered to be in your healing period until your treating doctors place you at maximum medical improvement. Your doctors may permit you to return to light duty work while you are healing from your injuries. Your doctors will likely specify the type of work you can physically perform.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(22) defines “suitable employment” prior to reaching maximum medical improvement as employment that is “within the employee's work restrictions, including rehabilitative or other noncompetitive employment with the employer of injury approved by the employee's authorized health care provider.” While attorneys often argue about the interpretation of this statute, it does appear your employer can specifically create a job for you prior to your reaching maximum medical improvement as long as it is approved by your treating doctors. If the position your employer offers is a legitimate position that was not specifically created for you, your employer can argue that approval is not required by your treating doctors.
Being placed at maximum medical improvement does not mean your treatment has ended. It does, however, mean your healing period has ended and you will likely require periodic follow-up appointments with your medical providers. Your doctors will likely assign you permanent work restrictions when you are placed at maximum medical improvement.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(22) has a different definition for “suitable employment” after reaching maximum medical improvement. Post-maximum medical improvement “suitable employment” is defined as “ employment that the employee is capable of performing considering the employee's preexisting and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills, education, and experience and is located within a 50‑mile radius of the employee's residence at the time of injury or the employee's current residence if the employee had a legitimate reason to relocate since the date of injury.”
Your employer can no longer offer you “make work” once you are placed at maximum medical improvement. Instead, your employer must offer you a position that is available to others in the labor market. The position offered to you must be within your work restrictions and must also take into account other factors such as your vocational history, education, and experience.
It should be noted that light duty work is less of an issue in denied claims because the employer disputes that your injury is covered by workers’ compensation. Therefore, your employer denies having any obligation to offer you suitable employment.
There is often a dispute in workers’ compensation claims over whether a job offered to an injured worker is suitable employment. The employer may not provide an accurate description of the physical requirements of a job. As an employee, you often have a better idea of the physical demands of a position than management. If you believe a position being offered to you is not suitable employment, contact the Olsinski Law Firm. We will force your employer to take the necessary steps to establish whether the position being offered to you is actually within your work restrictions. We will also counsel you on whether you should accept any position being offered to you, and we will recommend the next steps to take in your case after a light duty position has been offered to you.
We offer a free and confidential initial consultation in workers’ compensation claims at our offices in Charlotte and Concord. Your case will be handled by a board certified specialist in North Carolina workers’ compensation law. Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation.