“Workers comp premiums are killing me. Is there some way to keep my experience rating lower?” This is a question we get a lot from employers. Policies requiring prompt reporting of injuries and consistent enforcement of safety rules are a good starting point. If an employee nevertheless is injured and receives TTD benefits, having a well thought out light duty policy can also help.

Employers know the many consequences they face when an employee suffers a work injury. Typically employees are released to return to light duty work subject to certain restrictions, and all too often the restrictions leave no room for the possibility that the employee can do productive work, even taking reasonable accommodation into account. Economically, bringing a light duty employee back to work usually means incurring the cost of his or her wages. In return, you may be able to get the employee to deal with deferred administrative or maintenance work within his or her capabilities, at best.

These circumstances may not seem like a very attractive deal, but consider that the employee generally will not be drawing TTD while he is coming to work for you. Also, he will be showing up on a daily basis and contributing in some small way to the business. The fact that the employee is compelled to get out of bed, get dressed, and come into work where he will interact with others all day long may deter any thoughts he may harbor about stretching out or exaggerating the claim. The employee also may come to realize that, since he has to come to work every day anyway, it makes sense to get on with the task of rehabilitation so that he can return to his regular job. In short, light duty work can be good for the employee and, in some cases, also be good for the employer, if light duty improves the employee’s attitude and facilitates a faster return to regular duty.

The trick with light duty is to ensure it is viewed as a temporary step on the path to determining whether an employee can return to full duty, rather than a permanent niche occupied by the employee. A light-duty policy will often help ensure that — particularly one with these elements:

  • A clear statement that light duty is temporary.
  • A clear statement that there is no right to continued light duty employment. Light duty may be modified, or ended, at any time, even if the employee’s physician has not yet released him/her to regular duty.
  • A clear statement that, when light duty is ended, in order to continue working, an employee must be able to perform the essential functions of his of his or her regular job, with reasonable accommodation if the employee is disabled, and if reasonable accommodation is necessary.
  • A clear statement that employees on light duty are expected to perform that duty, and will be held accountable for performance and conduct standards just like employees on regular duty are.
  • A clear statement that the employee is to abide by the restrictions imposed by his or her physician and should not exceed those restrictions.

Beyond the policy, the next step is to manage light duty well, ensuring that the employee is prompt, is fully occupied and performing his/her assignments, and meets all applicable conduct standards. Accomplish these things, and over time you may find those workers compensation costs moving more in the right direction.

“Jack” Merinar is the leader of the firm’s NLRA team. He got his introduction to labor law in the early 1990’s seeking injunctions of picket line misconduct and handling arbitrations. By the mid 1990’s he was advising employers through union campaigns and elections. His experience with campaigns led Jack to develop a focus on advising employers how to avoid campaigns where possible.
» See more articles by John R. Merinar, Jr.
» Read the full biography of John R. Merinar, Jr. at Steptoe & Johnson


  1. Bryson Owens

    I really appreciate you talking about light duties that employees can be responsible for and that clear statements can help them. My son was recently injured while at work and he had to go to the hospital for a few days because of it. He needs help paying off those medical bills so he should hire an attorney that can help him in court.

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