Impact of a “Light Duty” Job Offer on Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Claims

gavel-5-1409595-m          Injured workers in Massachusetts who are disabled from work and receiving workers’ compensation benefits may receive an unexpected “light duty” job offer from their employer.  The light duty job offer by an employer to an injured worker can often times create a confusing situation for the injured worker because they are unclear what they should so in order to protect their own best interests.  It is not uncommon for an employer to not contact an injured worker for many months, even perhaps years, and then all of a sudden a letter with a light duty job offer appears in the mailbox of an injured worker.

Workers’ Compensation insurers have a financial interest in getting an injured worker back to earning wages.  Quite simply, if the injured worker returns to work, the insurer can either reduce or terminate their payment of weekly workers’ compensation benefits to the injured worker.  This is a tremendous cost savings to the workers compensation insurer and will also reduce the employer’s insurance premiums.  The more money that the injured worker is able to make, the less money the injured worker receives in workers’ compensation benefits, and, if the light duty job pays the same amount of money as the injured worker was receiving before he or she got hurt, they will not be entitled to receive any more weekly workers compensation benefits.  So it is easy to understand why these light duty job offers are made by employers.

Some light duty job offers made by an employer may be genuine and in the injured workers’ best interest to accept.  Perhaps the employer has legitimate light duty jobs at their workplace that the injured worker is qualified for and physically able to do.  Perhaps the light duty job is intended to be available forever and the injured worker will not be laid off if they are unable to recover from their injury well enough to return to their pre-injury job.  In this case, it may be in the best interest of the injured worker to accept the light duty job offer.

However, often times accepting a light duty job can have serious negative consequences for the injured worker and their workers’ compensation claim.  If the job is one that was just made up or created for this particular injured worker (solely to avoid payment of further workers compensation benefits), and the injured worker is not able to recover enough to transition back to the previous type of job they were doing before they got hurt, then the employer may lay the employee off under the guise that it was an economic layoff, poor performance, or any number of other reasons (other than the real reason which is because the worker is injured, can’t do the job).  Many occupations, such as jobs in the building trades, simply do not have light duty work available, and therefore a light duty job offer cannot be considered a genuine, real job.  Assuming this layoff or termination comes twenty eight (28) days after the injured worker has returned to a lighter duty job, the workers’ compensation insurer is under no obligation to reinstate workers’ compensation benefits unless and until a judge orders them to do so. The injured workers must then secure an attorney to file a claim to reinstate benefits at the Department of Industrial Accidents, and it could take up to 4 months for case to be scheduled before the judge.

Fortunately, Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation laws provide protections for employees who refuse a job offer that is determined to be not a real, legitimate job.  There are serious financial consequences for an injured worker to consider when offered a light duty job, and therefore someone in this position should consult with a Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation attorney.    Often times the insurance company and possibly the employer are not offering the light duty job with good intentions, and a qualified workers’ compensation attorney can help guide the injured worker through this confusing process.