Understand your rights when it comes to light-duty restrictions in Georgia
If you are seriously injured at work or diagnosed with an occupational illness that is covered by Georgia workers’ compensation, you will likely be examined by a physician from a list posted by your employer. Your doctor will then produce a report that might include a prescription of light-duty work restrictions on the physical activities, if any, that you are capable of performing during your recovery.
Next, your employer will determine whether they have a suitable job that fits within the doctor’s restrictions.
Before accepting or rejecting a light-duty position, be sure to seek counsel from a trusted workers’ compensation attorney about your rights and responsibilities under Georgia law.
Georgia’s return to work policies
A fundamental mission of Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws is to encourage injured workers to return to work as soon as recovery from their injuries reasonably permits. The legislative policy is aimed at limiting the insurance companies’ payout obligations and help encourage workers to rejoin the workforce.
Georgia’s State Board of Workers’ Compensation (statute O.C.G.A. 34-9-40, rule 34-9-240) has issued rulings regarding light-work duty: “Effect of refusal of suitable employment by injured employee; attempting or refusing to attempt work with restrictions.”
The new rule, which became effective July 1, 2021, in part provides that:
(b)… if the authorized treating physician releases an employee to return to work with restrictions and the employer tenders a suitable job to the employee within those restrictions, then:
(1) If the employee attempts the proffered job and is unable to perform the job for more than 15 working days, then weekly benefits shall be immediately reinstated, and the burden shall be upon the employer to prove that the employee is not entitled to continuing benefits; or
(2) If the employee refuses to attempt the proffered job, then the employer may unilaterally suspend benefits… Under those circumstances, the burden shall shift to the employee to prove continuing entitlement to benefits.
What does this ruling mean?
In a nutshell, if your employer offers you a light-duty job that fits within your doctor’s prescribed restrictions, then you shall continue to receive benefits only if you try but can’t perform the light duties for more than 15 days. If you refuse to try the light duties, your benefits will be immediately terminated.
Your employer is required to file supporting documents showing that the job offered meets the doctor’s recommendations, but it’s presumed that termination is justified. However, you can appeal the termination—that is, rebut the presumption.
The presumption means that your employer and their insurance company can unilaterally terminate your benefits without an order of the Board of Workers’ Compensation. They must file certain forms, but their termination is immediate and final unless you successfully appeal.
You can rebut the presumption by showing that the light-duty job being offered is not within the restrictions prescribed by your doctor. You should, if you haven’t already, hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to pursue your appeal.
A likely controversy of any appeal will be whether the light-duty job offered by your employer is “suitable” within the restrictions prescribed by your doctor. If possible, your attorney should seek to have the doctor specify as much as possible the prescribed restrictions to avoid any ambiguity.
Examples of light-duty work restrictions
“Light-duty” or “modified duty” refers to temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less demanding than your normal job duties. It can be a modified version of your old job or an entirely new job.
Ultimately, your rights and obligations concerning light duty are not governed by any defined term or examples; they are defined by your doctor’s prescription of restrictions of light duties and release for such duties.
Some examples of light-duty work might include:
- Any job that doesn’t require lifting or climbing
- A desk job or similar office work
- Taking inventory, or warehouse work that doesn’t require physical exertion
What if your employer has no light-duty job to offer?
Your employer is not obligated to offer a light-duty job that falls within your doctor’s restrictions. However, your employer has an incentive to offer one since failing to offer light-duty work will trigger the presumptions under the new rules effective July 1, 2021.
If a suitable light-duty job within your doctor’s restrictions isn’t available, and you remain out of work in a light-duty status, your income benefits will continue for 52 consecutive weeks (or a maximum of 78 total non-consecutive calendar weeks).
How will light-duty work affect your benefits?
If you do accept and successfully perform a qualified light-duty or modified-duty job, your workers’ compensation benefits can be adjusted or eliminated.
For example, if your light or modified duties pay the same or more than your regular job, your payments for lost wages will discontinue. If you make less money than before, you will continue to receive lost wages payments, but modified to compensate for only the shortfall.
For the best outcome, be sure to engage a competent and experienced workers’ compensation law firm such as Gerber & Holder Law. We’re trained and ready to fight for your rights.
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