In Missouri, the workers’ compensation statute mandates that an injured worker accept light or modified duty work so long as it doesn’t violate the work restriction they received from their doctor. Often times, however, supposedly “light duty” work assignments violate doctors orders and cannot be performed, leading to conflict. This is because in many occupations, light and modified duty jobs simply do not exist.
This recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides some insight into when light duty jobs are actually available. Table 1 demonstrates that the only occupation sector in the past 17 years where injured workers were able to perform reassigned light duty jobs more often than not working at all was in the manufacturing sector. This makes sense because manufacturing jobs are performed at factories, where a variety of other needed jobs can be assigned that do not violate the doctor’s prescribed work restriction. The job requirements are limited for each position on the assembly line, so it is easy to determine whether one job duty will violate doctors orders or not.
In other industries, light duty often makes no sense. For instance, in a job involving working with motor vehicles, the incidence rate of available light duty was 0.7, while the incidence for total day away from work was 1.0. The gap means that workers at car repair shops are more often not reassigned to a different job.
This is because working at a car repair shop is different than working at a factory. Mechanics are required to do a wide variety of tasks in order to be effective–lifting tires, rotating parts, kneeling, and others–all of which are essential to doing the job. Unlike factory workers, you cannot segment their job into smaller parts and then take out the segments that offend the doctors orders.
The trouble comes when employers try and take advantage of the light duty requirement. Oftentimes, employers in jobs like mechanic will tell the worker to simply not do the things that violate their doctors orders. This isn’t fair, because their job would require them to do it.
This is one area where having a good workers’ compensation attorney really helps to communicate with the employer and make the employer respect workers’ rights.