What Is Light-Duty Work Status in Louisiana Workers Compensation?
Typically, during the workers compensation process, an injured employee’s treating physician will continuously seek to determine if the injured employee is able to return to work of some type.
And if the injured employee’s treating physician does determine that the injured employee can return to work of some type, then the treating physician will sometimes place certain work restrictions on the type and intensity of work that the employee can perform.
So, even though the employee is still injured, the treating physician may clear the employee to participate in at least some type of work with restrictions.
Generally speaking, this type of work that the employee performs during this period – and before returning in full to the complete aspects of the employee’s job position – is called “light-duty” work.
Also, once the injured employee’s treating physician releases the employee to return to work with restrictions – or “light-duty” – this is typically when the vocational rehabilitation process begins.
So basically, light-duty means that the workers compensation insurance company or the employer will place the injured employee in a less-physically-demanding job position than the employee’s usual job position, and/or that the workers compensation insurance company or the employer will modify the employee’s present work to accommodate the treating physician’s physical or mental work restrictions.
Also, light-duty can refer to new job positions that the employer will create for the injured employee that are not as physically or mentally demanding as the employee’s prior position so that the injured employee – who cannot perform previously routine work tasks due to physical or mental disability – can still return to work and perform new tasks.
Typically, light-duty work consists of job restructuring or reassignment, especially when the work restrictions of the treating physician are physical – such as lifting, repetitive motions, or leg injuries.
Under job restructuring or reassignment, the employee’s old job task will go to someone else, and the employee will receive a job position that is possible within the physical restrictions provided by the treating physician. So for example, if a warehouse worker broke his leg, then under light-duty job restructuring, this worker could be moved to a desk job, such as a dispatcher.
Examples of Light-Duty Work in Louisiana Workers Compensation
Examples of light-duty work in Louisiana workers compensation include:
- Working a desk job
- Answering phones
- Mail handling
- Data entry
- Performing office tasks
- Printing, photocopying and collating materials
- Filing paperwork
- Placing purchase orders
- Shredding documents
- Completing equipment inspection logs
- Monitoring surveillance cameras
- Supervising and reporting on job sites
- Safety inspections and monitoring
- Taking inventories
- Telephone sales calls
- Customer appreciation calls
- Performing machinery/equipment maintenance
- Packaging of product or merchandise
- Greeting customers
- Teaching or instructing less experienced employees
LIGHT-DUTY REQUIREMENTS FOR EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION
Employers are not required to offer light-duty work to an injured employee.
But generally, the employer and the workers compensation insurance company will prefer to return an injured employee to light-duty work with the employer because the light-duty work will reduce costs for the workers compensation insurance company.
And if the employer does not offer light-duty work to an injured employee, then typically the workers compensation insurance company will begin the vocational rehabilitation process after the injured employee’s treating physician releases the employee to return to work with restrictions.
Specifically, once the employee’s treating physician releases the employee to return to work with restrictions (and the employer does not offer light-duty work to an injured employee), the workers compensation insurance company will typically appoint a vocational rehabilitation counselor to handle the vocational rehabilitation process, which will likely include a Labor Market Survey to determine post-injury wage-earning capacity.
However, if an employer does offer light-duty work to an injured employee – and the employee’s treating physician approves of this light-duty work – then the employee must return to this light-duty work or the employee will lose his or her workers compensation lost wage benefits.
But if the employee does accept this light-duty work, that does not necessarily mean the end of the employee’s lost wage benefits, because if the light-duty position pays less than what the injured employee was earning before his or her accident, then the injured employee will receive the difference in the wages.
Of course, an injured employee does not have to accept – and should not accept – a position that violates the work restrictions of the employee’s treating physician.
WHAT ARE THE TECHNICAL LIMITS FOR LIGHT-DUTY WORK IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION?
Sometimes, an injured employee’s treating physician will get very precise work restrictions, including specific weight amounts and time limits.
But usually, an injured employee’s treating physician will simply write “light duty ” on a prescription. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, fortunately, the United States Department Of Labor provides the following exact descriptions for work duty status:
- Light work. Exerting up to 20 pounds of force occasionally, or up to 10 pounds of force frequently, or a negligible amount of force constantly to move objects. A job should be rated Lightwork when it requires: (1). Walking or standing to a significant degree; or (2). Sitting most of the time but entails pushing or pulling of arm or leg controls; or (3). Working at a production rate pace entailing constant pushing or pulling of materials even though the weight of those materials is negligible. SSR 83-10 further defines the full range of Lightwork as requiring six or more hours of intermittent standing or walking in an 8-hour workday. Sitting may be required only intermittently and occasionally.
- Medium work. Exerting 21 to 50 pounds of force occasionally, or 11 to 25 pounds of force frequently, or greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects.
- Sedentary work. Exerting up to 10 pounds of force occasionally or a negligible amount of force frequently to lift, carry, push, pull, or otherwise move objects, including the human body. Sedentary work involves sitting most of the time, but may involve walking or standing for brief periods of time. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required only occasionally, and all other sedentary criteria are met. SSR 83-10 further defines Sedentary work as requiring about 6 hours of sitting and no more than 2 hours of standing or walking in an 8-hour workday.
- Heavy work. Exerting 51 to 100 pounds of force occasionally, or 26 to 50 pounds of force frequently, or 11 to 20 pounds of force constantly to move objects.
- Very heavy work. Exerting in excess of 100 pounds of force occasionally, or in excess of 50 pounds of force frequently, or in excess of 20 pounds of force constantly to move objects.
Also, the United States Department Of Labor provides the following exact definitions in support of these work duty status descriptions:
- Physical demands. The physical requirements made on the worker by the specific job-worker situation. There are 26 physical demands: 1) Standing; 2) Walking; 3) Sitting; 4) Lifting; 5) Carrying; 6) Pushing; 7) Pulling; 8) Climbing; 9) Balancing; 10) Stooping; 11) Kneeling; 12) Squatting (Crouching); 13) Crawling; 14) Reaching; 15) Handling; 16) Fingering; 17) Feeling; 18) Talking; 19) Hearing; 20) Tasting/Smelling; 21) Near Acuity; 22) Far Acuity; 23) Depth Perception; 24) Accommodation; 25) Color Vision; and 26) Field of Vision.
- Environmental conditions. The surroundings in which a job is performed. There are 14 environmental conditions: 1) Exposure to weather; 2) Extreme cold; 3) Extreme heat; 4) Wet/and or humid; 5) Noise intensity level; 6) Vibration; 7) Atmospheric conditions; 8) Proximity to moving mechanical parts; 9) Exposure to electrical shock; 10) Working in high exposed places; 11) Exposure to radiation; 12) Working with explosives; 13) Exposure to toxic or caustic chemicals; 14) Other environmental conditions.
- Repetitive activity. Performing the same task(s) 30 or more repetitions per hour, or 240 or more repetitions in an 8-hour workday. Use of a keyboard four or more hours per day.
- Non-repetitive activity. Performing the same task(s) less than 30 repetitions per hour, or less than 240 repetitions in an 8-hour workday. Use of keyboard-less than 4 hours per day.
- Frequent activity. The activity or condition exists more than 1/3 and up to 2/3 of the time, or more than 2 1⁄2 hours up to 5 1⁄4 hours in an 8-hour workday, or more than 13 and up to 62 repetitions per hour, or more than 100 and up to 500 repetitions in an 8-hour workday.
- Occasional activity. The activity or condition exists up to 1/3 of the time, or up to 2 1⁄2 hours in an 8-hour workday, or up to 12 repetitions per hour, or up to 100 repetitions in an 8-hour workday.
Last, the United States Department Of Labor provides the following exact descriptions for work duty status skill levels:
- Unskilled work (levels 1-2). Work requiring short demonstration only (level 1) or anything beyond short demonstration up to and including one month (level 2) for the worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a specific job-worker situation.
- Semi-skilled work (levels 3-4). Work requiring over one month up to and including three months (level 3) or over three months up to and including six months (level 4) for the worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a specific job-worker situation.
- Skilled work (levels 5-7). Work requiring over six months up to and including one year (level 5), over one year up to and including two years (level 6), or over two years up to and including four years (level 7) for the worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a specific job-worker situation.
- Highly skilled work (levels 8-9). Work requiring over four years up to and including ten years (level 8) or over ten years (level 9) for the worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a specific job-worker situation.
THE LOUISIANA STATUTE FOR VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION
The primary Louisiana statute for vocational rehabilitation is La. R.S. 23:1226, which reads as follows:
§1226. Rehabilitation of injured employees
A. When an employee has suffered an injury covered by this Chapter which precludes the employee from earning wages equal to wages earned prior to the injury, the employee shall be entitled to prompt rehabilitation services. Vocational rehabilitation services shall be provided by a licensed professional vocational rehabilitation counselor, and all such services provided shall be compliant with the Code of Professional Ethics for Licensed Rehabilitation Counselors as established by R.S. 37:3441 et seq.
B.(1) The goal of rehabilitation services is to return a worker with a disability to work, with a minimum of retraining, as soon as possible after an injury occurs. The first appropriate option among the following must be chosen for the worker:
(a) Return to the same position.
(b) Return to a modified position.
(c) Return to a related occupation suited to the claimant’s education and marketable skills.
(d) On-the-job training.
(e) Short-term retraining program (less than twenty-six weeks).
(f) Long-term retraining program (more than twenty-six weeks but not more than one year).
(2) Whenever possible, employment in a worker’s local job pool must be considered and selected prior to consideration of employment in a worker’s statewide job pool.
(3) (a) The employer shall be responsible for the selection of a licensed professional vocational rehabilitation counselor to evaluate and assist the employee in his job placement or vocational training. Should the employer refuse to provide these services, or a dispute arises concerning the work of the vocational counselor, the employee may file a claim with the office to review the need for such services or the quality of services being provided. The employee shall have a right to an expedited summary proceeding pursuant to R.S. 23:1201.1(K)(8). The workers compensation judge shall set a hearing date within three days of receiving the motion. The hearing shall be held not less than ten, nor more than thirty days, after the employer or payor receives notice, delivered by certified or registered mail, of the employee’s motion. The workers compensation judge shall provide notice of the hearing date to the employer and payor at the same time and in the same manner that notice of the hearing date is provided to the employee or his attorney. For the purposes of this Section, an employee shall not be required to submit the dispute on the issue of vocational services to mediation or go through a pretrial conference before obtaining a hearing. The hearing shall be conducted as a rule to show cause.
(b) An employee shall have no right of action against a vocational counselor for tort damages related to the performance of vocational services unless and until he has exhausted the administrative remedy provided for in Subparagraph (a) of this Paragraph. The running of prescription shall be suspended during the pendency of the administrative proceedings provided for in this Paragraph.
(c) Upon refusal by the employee, the employer or payor may reduce weekly compensation, including supplemental earnings benefits pursuant to R.S. 23:1221(3), by fifty percent for each week of the period of refusal. Reduction of benefits by the employer or payor shall be made in accordance with the provisions of R.S. 23:1201.1(A) through (E).
C.(1) Rehabilitation services required for workers with disabilities may be initiated by:
(a) An insurer or self-insured employer by designating a rehabilitation provider and notifying the office.
(b) The office by requiring the insurer or self-insured employer to designate a rehabilitation provider.
(c) The employee, through a request to the office. The office shall then require the insurer to designate a rehabilitation provider.
(2) Rehabilitation services provided under this Part must be delivered through a rehabilitation counselor approved by the office.
D. Prior to the workers compensation judge adjudicating an injured employee to be permanently and totally disabled, the workers compensation judge shall determine whether there is reasonable probability that, with appropriate training or education, the injured employee may be rehabilitated to the extent that such employee can achieve suitable gainful employment and whether it is in the best interest of such individual to undertake such training or education.
E. When it appears that a retraining program is necessary and desirable to restore the injured employee to suitable gainful employment, the employee shall be entitled to a reasonable and proper retraining program for a period not to exceed twenty-six weeks, which period may be extended for an additional period not to exceed twenty-six additional weeks if such extended period is determined to be necessary and proper by the workers compensation judge. However, no employer or insurer shall be precluded from continuing such retraining beyond such period on a voluntary basis. An injured employee must request and begin retraining within two years from the date of the termination of temporary total disability as determined by the treating physician. If a retraining program requires residence at or near the facility or institution and away from the employee’s customary residence, reasonable cost of board, lodging, or travel shall be borne by the employer or insurer. A retraining program shall be performed at facilities within the state when such facilities are available.
F. Temporary disability benefits paid pursuant to R.S. 23:1221(1) shall include such period as may be reasonably required for training in the use of artificial members and appliances and shall include such period as the employee may be receiving training or education under a retraining program pursuant to this Section.
G. The permanency of the employee’s total disability under R.S. 23:1221(2) cannot be established, determined, or adjudicated while the employee is employed pursuant to an on-the-job training or a retraining program as provided in Subsections B and E of this Section.
Acts 1983, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 1, §1, eff. July 1, 1983; Acts 1988, No. 938, §1, eff. July 1, 1989; Acts 1989, No. 23, §1, eff. June 15, 1989; Acts 1989, No. 260, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1989, No. 454, §6, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1997, No. 88, §1, eff. June 11, 1997; Acts 2003, No. 980, §1; Acts 2004, No. 341, §1, eff. June 18, 2004; Acts 2005, No. 257, §1; Acts 2013, No. 337, §1; Acts 2014, No. 811, §12, eff. June 23, 2014.