Remember “light duty,” when your certified nursing assistant or nurse gets hurt during a patient transfer and they disappear into an eternally deep black hole?

What is the definition of light duty?

Many workers’ compensation boards don’t have a hard definition.

According to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in my state of Ohio, “a light duty job offer must be made in good faith, be of suitable employment and be within a ‘reasonable proximity’ of the injured worker’s residence.”

Uncertainty often leads to inaction. I see it all the time: Light duty = new job for the rest of time.

It’s rare to see someone transfer back to their regular job once their light duty is complete. Why would they? Light duty jobs are nearly always easier than the original job. They’re lighter.

Questions to ask about light duty in your building:

  • What exactly is the injury and does the offer for temporary, alternate employment meet the needs of the injury?
  • Are the duties being updated regularly so that the employee can retain their job and return to the original job?
  • Are the new job duties clearly outlined or are they vague, such as “and any other duties within restrictions”?
  • Do you have proof that the injured employee received the new duty notice in writing? Is there a signed receipt?
  • Is your light duty policy one-size-fits-all? Or is it specific to the employee and the injury?

As a transitional work developer with more than 15 years of experience, I create functional job descriptions, write grants and work with employers to keep injured staff on the job and get them back to their original duties. 

What’s a functional job description? It’s not the job description that your human resources department has everyone sign upon hiring. It doesn’t say “bachelor’s degree required with at least two years’ experience.” It includes specific details such as:

  • Employee must walk approximately 100 yards pushing a med cart weighing 75 pounds with 14 pounds of force through doorways and across level surfaces.
  • Employee must be able to lift/pull 35 pounds horizontally using gait belts and other means, and push a wheelchair weighing up to 350 pounds across level surfaces through doorways.
  • Employee must be able to crouch with hips and knees flexed 60 degrees to pick up 20-pound objects from floor and return to standing position up to 30 times per day. 

Functional job descriptions are just one tool needed to encourage returns to full-duty status. Getting employees back to their original jobs should be the primary focus of the employer as well as the injured worker. Some tactics to use:

  • Allow light duty for one week, followed by light duty with incremental increases in duties according to the established functional job description.
  • After two weeks of light duty, involve physical therapists and occupational therapists (from your staff or your local workers’ compensation agency)  to help the injured worker improve function and decrease pain.
  • Get your PT/OT staff to work on ergonomics with the employee. What are they doing wrong? What adaptive equipment can be used by the employee to ensure the injury doesn’t recur?

Education and management will get your injured employees back to their original jobs and will prevent further injuries from occurring. Work with your injured staff. Work with your workers’ compensation agency and transitional work experts to improve your premiums and ensure your employees are working to the best of their abilities without injury. Everybody wins.