If you’re suffering from a workplace injury or occupational illness, you might be entitled to benefits for medical treatment and lost wages through workers’ compensation. But unless your injuries are so severe that you’re completely unable to work, your treating physician might clear you for light-duty workplace tasks.

Light duty can be an excellent way to move back into your regular job as you recover. However, it can also limit the workers’ compensation benefits you receive. And some employers might invite you back to work prematurely or give you tasks that are unsafe for you to perform.

To ensure you achieve the right balance between work, rest, and compensation, this short guide outlines how light-duty restrictions affect your workers’ comp benefits. If after reading you feel you’re being forced back to work before you’re ready, contact the experienced attorneys at Phalen Law for legal advice and representation.

What is light duty?

Following a workplace injury or illness, your employer may ask you to return to work in a light-duty role at the discretion of your treating physician. These light duties can involve:

  • Adjusting your existing responsibilities to accommodate your injuries
  • Temporarily assigning you a different role that’s far less strenuous

Whatever kind of light-duty role your employer offers, it must not exceed the restrictions of your injury.

That said, your employer isn’t obligated to offer you a light-duty role. They might prefer to simply wait until your treating physician clears you for regular work.

But if they do offer you light duty, you’ll almost always need to accept to maintain your workers’ comp benefits.

Light-duty work examples

Light-duty restrictions typically fall into one of 3 categories:

  • Movement restrictions that limit how long you can be required to walk, stand, or sit
  • Lifting restrictions that limit the amount of weight you’re expected to lift or carry
  • One-hand restrictions that exclude you from tasks that require using a particular hand

Such restrictions can include:

  • Shorter working days
  • No kneeling, squatting, or bending over
  • No strenuous physical activity
  • No lifting or carrying heavy objects
  • No repetitive arm or hand movements

If your injuries leave you unable to perform your original role, your employer might instead offer a different workplace position. Common light-duty work examples include:

  • Office or administrative work
  • Managing phone calls or emails
  • Cleaning and maintenance
  • Inventory or stocktaking
  • Training, monitoring, or supervising
  • Operating machinery or driving vehicles, if these don’t exceed your sitting restrictions
  • Research

Keep Reading: How Are Workers’ Compensation Benefits Calculated in Kansas?

Can you get workers’ comp while on light duty?

Workers’ compensation provides two main types of financial benefits: medical treatment and lost wages.

Since your injury or illness arose from performing your work duties, your employer and their insurance company are obligated to cover your medical expenses. This is true whether or not you take on light-duty work.

But when you return to work – even in a light-duty capacity – you start earning an income again. This can affect your right to compensation for lost wages.

If the amount you earn under light duty is equal to or greater than your pre-injury wages, you’ll stop receiving lost wages benefits.

But if you earn less, you’re still entitled to receive partial disability payments. These should increase your total income back to its pre-injury amount.

So yes, you can get workers’ comp while on light duty. And even though light duty might affect the proportions of where your money comes from, the final amount should be the same.

Can I refuse light duty on workers’ comp?

You’re under no legal obligation to accept the light-duty restrictions that your employer offers. But if you refuse light duty, you could lose some or all of your workers’ comp benefits.

As well as covering medical costs, workers’ compensation is designed to provide financial support for the wages you’re unable to earn due to your injury. But if you’re able to earn and choose not to, you won’t be entitled to lost wages benefits.

In an extreme scenario, your employer might even petition a judge to adjust or terminate your workers’ comp benefits. This could mean you also stop receiving payments to cover your medical expenses.

Therefore, it’s almost always best to accept light-duty work opportunities that don’t exceed the limits set by your treating physician.

Keep Reading: How Are Workers’ Compensation Benefits Calculated in Missouri?

What if I can’t perform my light-duty tasks?

Upon returning to work, you might find that your injuries prevent you from performing your light-duty tasks. In most cases, this simply requires further adjustment.

Start by speaking with your employer and treating physician to update your light-work restrictions. Be specific about which tasks you’re struggling with and why you can’t meet your employer’s expectations to negotiate a comfortable balance between work and recovery.

Though unlikely, you might find that your employer keeps giving you tasks you can’t perform. If so, your treating physician might update their restrictions to remove you from work duties entirely until you’ve recovered.

It’s also possible that your employer might try to force you back to work before you’re ready, or ask you to perform tasks that exceed your physical and medical restrictions. If this happens, it’s recommended that you protect yourself with expert legal support.

At Phalen Law, we’ve spent more than 50 years defending the rights of those receiving workers’ compensation benefits. We have a detailed knowledge of workers’ comp legislation in both Kansas and Missouri. And we know how to protect you against the tactics employers and their insurance companies use to intimidate and get their way.

To create a convincing case that protects your workers’ comp rights, call us toll-free or complete our Free Case Evaluation form without delay.

Picture of William L. Phalen

William L. Phalen

For 30 years, Bill Phalen has been representing families and workers whose lives have been devastated by workplace injuries, reckless drivers and the negligence of others. When tragedy needlessly strikes – because of the irresponsible behavior of an employer, corporation or an insurance company – Bill Phalen is an advocate for the people, always representing David in the fight against Goliath. Bill’s strong convictions have led to successful cases at the Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court.

21:34 06 Aug 23
It has been a long road of recovery, very thankful for all they have done on my behalf, Bill and Melissa thank you for having my back and helping me get through everthing i have gone through in the last few years.
TikTok BattleTikTok Battle
13:21 28 Mar 23
Very nice employees. William is an awesome attorney if it had an option for 10 stars I would give him 10. I highly recommend him to anyone in search of a great attorney
Dorothy RuebelDorothy Ruebel
05:32 25 May 21
I highly recommend Mr Phalen. He and his staff did a great job! I could not have won my case without them.
Luke EmmotLuke Emmot
14:42 18 Dec 20
I was hurt at work and Mr Phalen took my case on and worked on it for over a year and was able to successfully get me a settlement check for my injuries. Hire him if you’re ever injured on the job!
Kelli StringfieldKelli Stringfield
21:06 01 Jul 19
If you need an excellent attorney around the Pittsburg area Bill Phalen is the guy to go to. Very knowledgeable and pleasant and the office staff is great. I wouldn't go to anyone else!
Levi DeWittLevi DeWitt
16:14 01 Apr 19
I've worked here as a student intern since August, 2018 and I must say that this has been the most enjoyable job I've had to date. Mr. Phalen and the gals working here are a pleasure to be around and work with. They are patient with me every time I'm slow to get the hang of a new task, they are relaxed and easy going but know how to get the job done well. They each put extra effort into all of the work they do for each and every client. Several times they have come in early or stayed at the office late to make sure that they got every done that they needed to prepare someone's case.The people in this office have been a part of this community for a lifetime and working with them has helped me feel as if I was a part of this great community as well.
Thomas HelmThomas Helm
16:52 27 Mar 19
Very Proud to call him my Attorney, very friendly staff, that always keeps me updated on my case and one phone call away to answer any questions. I have been using him for many, many years. I can't Thank him enough for what he has done and still doing for me and my family. But Thank you. Would highly recommend William Phalen.