Your Options When Your Employer Doesn’t Offer a Modified Return to Work

Doctor Writing a Light-Work Order for a PatientSuffering a work injury can be a frustrating and stressful time. In addition to the physical and emotional recovery that is necessary, employees often find themselves under financial pressure, as well. As they continue to miss work days and the bills continue to arrive, they want to return to work as soon as possible. In some cases, employees can go back before full recovery. When a doctor approves an employee for light or modified duty, they may be able to perform some job duties.  For some, this is an excellent option. However, many times, employers cannot offer an employee a less taxing position. In those cases, the employee may find themselves in a difficult position. What options exist for those times?

Modified Job Duties Can Help an Employee Return to Work Faster

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) does strongly encourage employers, employees, physicians, and case workers to work together to find a way to help injured employees return to work as quickly as possible. A speedy return, when cleared by a physician, is beneficial to all parties. The employer can continue to operate efficiently and effectively, and the employee is able to earn their wages. Additionally, many medical professionals promote a prompt return to work to aid in the healing and rehabilitation of many types of injuries. The BWC encourages four return-to-work options if an employee can return in some capacity before full recovery. These options, as stated in the BWC’s Handbook for Injured Employees, are:

  • Transitional work – Work that uses real job duties for a specified period of time (typically two or three months) to help you recover enough to return to your original job.
  • Modified work – Work in which obstacles that may keep you from performing your essential job functions are adapted, altered or removed.
  • Light duty – Work in which the job is executed at reduced physical levels. Tasks can be temporary or permanent.
  • Alternative work – Work you can do if you are permanently unable to do your original job, but have other abilities and can be employed by the same employer.

Most employers are open to helping employees return to work as quickly as possible. In some cases, transitional or light duty work may not be available, but alternative or modified work could help the employee return to work. Medical care providers may not fully understand the duties of every job, so employees and their team should explore all options before determining that changed duties are unavailable.

When Nothing Short of a Full Return to Work Is Available

Ohio, and many other states, do not mandate that employers create any type of this changed work for an injured employee wishing to return before a full recovery, however. If it is simply not possible for the duties to be changed, or if all the spots for changed duty have been filled, the employer would be within their rights to deny the employee’s request. In those cases, the injured employee can continue to obtain workers’ compensation benefits until a full recovery is made and a complete return to work is possible.

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Even When Available, Changed Job Duties May Not Be Adequate

Additionally, employees may still experience problems even when the employer offers light duty work. In some cases, the employer will offer the light duty work at a reduced pay based on the amount of work being done. The employee still may not be able to return to his full wages until a complete recovery is made. When an employee’s pay is cut in this manner, they have essentially two options:

  • Working Wage Law.  The working wage law seeks to fill the gap left between the wages earned before an injury and the wages earned during recovery. However, the working wage law covers only a percentage of the difference between the two incomes. For example, if an employee was earning $15 per hour before an injury, and the light duty assignment only paid $10 per hour, the working wage law would offer only a portion of the $5 difference. It is available, but still may not help the employee earn full wages before a complete recovery.
  • Seek new employment. At any time, an employee is free to end his relationship with an employer and seek new employment. This does come with its own risks, however, and every unique situation should be addressed differently.

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury at work, you have legal rights and options in Ohio. Call the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Monast Law at (614) 334-4649 to learn more about how we may be able to help.