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If an employee’s primary treating physician places light-duty work restrictions on the return-to-work authorization, and if the employer offers light-duty work assignments, a worker is able to get back to his or her job while still recovering. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

The objective of workers’ compensation (WC) insurance is to provide employees with financial support while they recover from a work-related illness or injury so that eventually, they can return to work when it is deemed medically appropriate. In some cases, if an employee’s primary treating physician (PTP) places light-duty work restrictions on the return-to-work authorization, and if the employer offers light-duty work assignments, a worker is able to get back to his or her job while still recovering.

However, because WC laws are different in every state, it can be difficult for employers to understand their obligations when it comes to light or modified return-to-work assignments. The following addresses some of the more common questions that your employer clients are likely to ask when it comes to navigating WC and light-duty or modified work assignments.

Who decides if an employee is physically able to perform light-duty work?

Only the PTP can determine if and when it is medically appropriate for an employee to return to his or her job in a light-duty capacity. Whether an employee can return to work on light duty also depends on the employer’s ability to find suitable work for the injured worker within his or her restrictions. If the employer is unable to meet the PTP’s restrictions, temporary disability benefits will continue until the PTP makes changes to the restrictions or authorizes the employee to return to regular duties.

Can an employee refuse light-duty work while still recovering?

If an employer offers light-duty work that meets the PTP’s medical restrictions, the employee must accept the work or risk forfeiting any disability payments for his or her lost wages.

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