There are many options to consider when exploring the opportunity to help an injured employee return to work. Employers may choose to provide light duty by temporarily modifying the injured worker’s normal job duties by eliminating specific tasks that exceed their current medically approved functional limitations. These temporary changes to the worker’s job tasks should align with the physical restrictions the employee has been placed under by their doctor. This modified duty would then be as closely related to the original job as possible; given the worker’s doctor prescribed constraints. In turn, the employee maintains their regular interactions with their supervisor and coworkers, while holding a productive position with the business. The company can then progressively increase duties, with physician approval, as the worker’s physical ability improves.
For example, an injured warehouse worker normally asked to lift and load merchandise, as well as keep inventory records, might return to her work group to temporarily undertake only the record keeping functions of her position. As the employee’s physical health improves, she collaborates with her employer and doctor to determine which additional job duties she can do. After two weeks, the employee returns to handling all of her regular job duties with physician approval.
If modifying an injured employee’s regular job duties is not an option, an employer may opt to provide a light duty job that is an alternate position within the company. In addition to meeting physician restrictions, the position should be within the injured worker’s skills and abilities. The employee must be able to perform the essential functions within normal productivity standards. It neither benefits the company, nor the injured worker, to assign them to an alternate position for which they are untrained or unqualified. In fact, this can have negative effects. An injured employee who is temporarily placed in an alternate position that meets their current medical restrictions should be able to make a meaningful contribution to the business.
For example, an injured construction worker normally expected to provide manual labor might return to work temporarily in the office as an assistant doing filing, making phone calls, and shredding documents. These duties meet the restrictions provided by his doctor. The employee works in this alternate position until he receives approval from his physician to return to job site three and a half weeks later. The injured worker was able to effectively perform valuable work, which lightened the burden of regular office staff.
Another option to provide a light duty job is to provide individual tasks outside of the injured worker’s regular position within the company. These tasks may include extensive safety training or retraining, one-off duties that are not regularly assigned to an employee, or volunteerism with a charitable organization. Some of the non-profits that often utilize volunteers paid by their employers include the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, American Heart Association, and YMCA. Some religious affiliate organizations are also available for placement of the injured employee when they do not conflict with the religious views of the injured employee. As with all light duty jobs, any of these assignments should meet the injured worker’s doctor provided restrictions.