Can an employee be offered light duty for sickness? To answer this question, you first need to understand what light duty is, why it exists, and how it relates to accommodating a disability.
What is light duty?
Light duty is a way to keep employees who are injured on-the-job engaged and productive by creating temporary work assignments that fit within job restrictions provided by their doctor. These assignments are typically less demanding in a physical and/or mental capacity to avoid aggravating their injury.
Why would my company want to offer light duty?
There are several reasons why your company would want to offer light duty work assignments to an employee who has been injured at work:
1. Light duty helps keep employees engaged.
Employees who can remain productive, even at a lesser capacity, will be much more fulfilled and engaged than employees who are paid to binge watch Real Housewives reruns while they recover from injury. They’ll also stay more connected with coworkers and with the company. And, in many cases, staying active will help them heal more quickly.
2. Light duty improves employee morale.
Making accommodations to fit your injured employee shows that you’re a flexible employer who cares about your employees. It also shows that you care about their coworkers, as finding tasks for injured employees to complete will help minimize extra duties from being added to coworkers’ workloads. In addition, your company will be less likely to attract workers’ comp abusers.
3. Light duty helps contain the overall cost of a workers’ comp claim.
In most states, employees who are injured at work and file a workers’ comp claim receive 66.67% of regular wages from their workers’ comp insurance carrier while recovering. Any work they do or income they make during that time reduces the amount of money they receive from the workers’ comp payout, which reduces the overall financial responsibility associated with the claim. If the employee refuses light duty after a workplace injury, they will forfeit workers’ comp payouts from the carrier.
Should I offer light duty when it isn’t a work-related injury?
When an employee is wanting light duty for something other than a workplace injury, you risk setting a precedent that anyone who is sick can be accommodated to do something beyond their typical work duties. Companies will oftentimes make accommodations for employees with short-term needs, such as a broken arm, pregnancy, recovering from surgery, and so on. However, many of these conditions cross over into other areas such as FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), short-term disability, and even long-term disability, so it’s best to navigate openly with employees about their options.
The most critical point is to ensure accommodations are offered consistently to everyone, as this could be misconstrued as discrimination to those who are denied light duty for their circumstance.
Is light duty the same thing as accommodating a disability?
Light duty is a temporary assignment given to an employee recovering from a workplace injury, whereas making an accommodation for an employee’s disability could indicate something more long-term that may or may not have occurred because of work.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person has a disability if they:
- Have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity.
- Have a history of a disability.
- Are subject to an adverse employment action because of a physical or mental impairment the individual has or is perceived to have, except if it is transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor.
If an employee comes to you requesting an accommodation due to a disability, companies with 15+ employees are required to pursue a reasonable accommodation, so long as it does not create an undue hardship for the company. Learn more about mistakes to avoid when considering accommodations or contact your certified HR expert for more information.
Light Duty for Sickness Summary
Ultimately, employees should work with their employer to agree and collaborate on temporary job duties and accommodations when needed.
As you consider the complexity of trying to appease some employees without frustrating others and running the risk of a discrimination claim for inconsistencies, please contact your certified HR expert for guidance. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly.