Light Duty/Modified Position Descriptions (PD)
Work accommodations that involve meaningful work in a setting where the worker can "fit in" without major discomfort are more likely to be successful. A light duty job offer (or modified work) by the employer doubles the likelihood of the worker returning to work and reduces, by half, the number of days they are off work. It can also reduce the employee’s concerns about returning to work. The responsibility for developing the light duty or modified job is generally the injured employee's immediate supervisor.
In identifying tasks to be included in a light duty job offer or modified work assignment, things to keep in mind include:
- Take a positive approach
- The value of the alternative work to the total work unit and to other employees
- Whether or not the light duty assignment is meaningful to the injured worker
- Focus on what the employee can do rather than those tasks he or she cannot perform
- Supervisors should work with their ICPA to obtain an agreement from the physician stating that the employee is capable of performing the tasks designated in the light duty job offer/assignment or modified PD.
- Supervisors should not overlook the importance of making certain that the employee’s co-workers understand the alternative productive work approach, emphasizing that the injured employee is not receiving treatment different from what they would also receive.
The supervisor is also responsible for monitoring the injured employee's progress and working with the ICPA to see that the employee returns to his or her original job as quickly as possible. Remember that recovery periods will vary with individuals. Stay flexible and do not force the situation. It defeats the purpose if the employee tries to return to his or her regular job before he or she is ready. If an employee, that you and the physician feel is ready to work at their original job, resists returning to that job, contact your agency ICPA to resolve this issue.
Throughout the recovery period, positive interaction concerning the progress the employee is making is vital. Emphasize the abilities the employee is displaying, rather than dwelling on any remaining limitations. Remember, the goal is to get the employee back to his or her regular job and feeling good about their recovery.
If the employee is represented by a Union, it is advisable to involve the Union in assessing and identifying light duty assignments or modified PD. Supervisors should consider involving their Labor Management Employee Relations Specialist in this process as well if the employee belongs to a bargaining unit.
Situations to Avoid!
- Bringing an employee back to work before they are ready
- Establishing a confrontational environment to workers' compensation claims
- Keeping employees in the dark about their benefits or the claim process
- Not contacting employees on a regular and frequent basis during extended disability
- Establishing a negative attitude towards a workers' compensation claimant
- Not being willing to make concessions for a permanently/partially disabled employee
- Pushing an employee beyond work restrictions or allowing them to perform tasks, which may complicate or delay recovery
Factors that Influence Return to Work
Physical job factors that can be barriers to returning to work include:
- Heavy physical labor
- Repetitive motions
- Uncomfortable positions including crouching
- Bending and twisting
- Working in a fixed position
Workplace organizational factors that have been associated with prolonged work disability include:
- Employees having low job control
- Low control over work and rest schedules
- Long working hours
- High psychological demands
Individual characteristics that have been found to be associated with longer periods of work disability include:
- Greater severity of injury
- Low recovery expectations
Psychosocial factors that can influence return to work success include:
Relationships with co-workers and supervisors
- A supportive supervisor is crucial for a successful return-to-work process.
- Coworkers are frequently affected by an injured employee’s work absence, due to increased workload. A negative relationship with co-workers is one factor that may increase length of time off work
Organizational culture, and labor relations in the workplace
- Workers often feel that their injury is not seen as "real" by their employer or co-workers. Although notions of abuse are widespread in the compensation system, this perception is a particularly prevalent for people with “invisible” injuries (such as low-back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome), low social support among co-workers, less work seniority, and less status in the workplace.
- Notions about the legitimacy of compensation claims cause tensions for many injured workers, and can color their interactions with employers, co-workers, rehabilitation professionals and those outside of the workplace and compensation system, making return to work more problematic. Additionally, some employees fear that time off work as a result of an injury will jeopardize their job security.
Facts You Should Know About Early Return to Work Programs
While vocational rehabilitation serves as a final attempt to get claimants back to work, returns to work can occur at all stages of the process. From the standpoint of program efficiency and cost-effectiveness, efforts geared toward returning claimants to work earlier prove to be more effective. Numerous studies have demonstrated that both workers and employers benefit from early returns to work. For example, evidence from the state of Wisconsin demonstrates that delayed returns to work result not only in lost earnings, but also in a deterioration of job skills. Employing agencies also benefit from speedy returns to work, as there is less disruption to work flow and the workforce. Other facts to consider:
- Injured employees off work longer than six months have only a fifty percent chance of ever returning to their job; if time lost exceeds one year, their chances decrease to less than ten percent
- Compensable injuries can take up to four times longer for recovery; they may cost five times more than non-compensable injuries
- Early return to work enables the employee to continue a productive life
- Early return to work reduces costs of replacing the employee, overtime costs, retraining costs, loss of production and related costs, and improves workplace morale
- Early return to work reduces Temporary Total Disability payments. Employees are on the job, earning wages
- Early return to work reduces medical costs (The injured employee heals more rapidly, shortening the time medical treatment is needed)
- Early return to work reduces award costs (The potential for an employee to become totally and permanently disabled is greatly decreased)
- Know the names and phone numbers of your agency’s contacts for questions related to employee safety and workers’ compensation (Injury Compensation Program Administrator, ICPA)
- Have an emergency treatment plan to ensure that any employee who is injured or ill receives prompt and proper medical care
- Be mindful of positions within your agency that lend themselves to modification for the purpose of returning injured workers
- Survey the worksite recovering employees will be returning to, to ensure all safety measures have been observed
- If employee fails to report to work and/or call – contact employee to find out why they have failed to report to work
- Contact ICPA immediately if employee fails to report to work
What are job accommodations?
They are modifications made to the injured employee's job to allow them to perform the duties of their job, just as you would provide the appropriate tools to all employees to perform their jobs.
Accommodations might include some of the following:
- Making the physical work environment accessible (i.e., installing a ramp so they can get into the building from the garage), or moving the employee to a different but equivalent location
- Modifying existing equipment or acquiring new equipment
- Modifying job duties
- Partial work hours on a temporary basis (or permanent, if necessary and feasible)
- Job Sharing - exchanging pieces of a job that cannot be performed by the employee with another employee, and the injured employee takes on some of their responsibilities in return
- Permanent reassignment to a vacant position of equivalent status and salary that better fits the restrictions using the Pipeline Reemployment Program
An employee needs to provide you with a very specific list of their restrictions from their doctor so that you will have a starting point. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs form CA-17 is a great source of information for this purpose.
Medical feedback that says, "light typing," is not specific and should provide more specific detail such as:
- "no continuous typing for more than five minutes, three times per hour."
- How long will the restrictions be in place?
- Are they permanent or temporary - if temporary, how long? (this will provide you as the supervisor with a much greater sense of confidence in your managing an accommodated return to work)
- If medical documentation is inadequate, request that the employee provide more specific detail or contact the servicing ICPA to intervene.
Keys To Success
It is very important to remind the employee that this is a joint venture between the employee, you, the employer and/or case manager, and the doctor - that you are all trying to put the right pieces of the puzzle together to accomplish a successful and long term return to employment. There are no instant solutions or magic answers. Partnering, communicating, and collaborating with your employee are the keys to the success of any job accommodation. Let employees know that you are open to suggestions, and mean it!