Having an employee on disability due to a work-related injury can be a very costly and troublesome part of a workers’ compensation claim. A light duty job offer can be an effective way of returning an employee to work while he or she recovers from work-related injuries and, at the same time, can save employers significantly in terms of management and claims costs.
A light duty job offer can serve to prevent or terminate temporary total disability compensation. As a result, these offers will be scrutinized by the Industrial Commission and every “defect” found by either the Commission or a claimant’s attorney will be argued against the employer. Thus, it is imperative that light duty offers comply with every aspect of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Code.
Under Ohio law, 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. The “good faith” portion of this requirement essentially means that you cannot offer an employee a job that you know he or she will not do (e.g., offering an employee with a desk job a light duty position of cleaning exterior windows). The “reasonable proximity” portion of the code section stands for the proposition that you cannot require an employee to drive much more than he or she would normally drive to/from work.
If the injured worker refuses a verbal job offer and the employer intends to initiate proceedings to terminate temporary total disability compensation, the employer must give the injured worker a written job offer at least 48 hours prior to initiating proceedings. However, light duty offers should almost always be extended in writing from the outset.
To be valid, the written job offer shall identify the position offered and shall include a description of the duties required and clearly specify the physical demands of the job. If the employer files a motion with the Industrial Commission to terminate payment of compensation based on a light duty offer, a copy of the written offer must accompany the employer's motion.
Light duty offers can be a minefield for employers to navigate. Mistakes that often occur include having no proof that the injured worker actually received the written light duty offer, waiting too long to provide the offer, making an offer that does not comply with the injured worker’s restrictions, and failing to update an offer to comply with restrictions that may have been updated or changed.
When creating and extending a light duty offer, it is important to remember the following:
- Examine the employee’s restrictions in detail and tailor the offer to conform to the actual restrictions;
- Ensure that the assigned job duties are actually within the restrictions, including the amount of hours that can be worked per day and the number of days that can be worked in a week;
- Ensure that light duty offers are updated each time new restrictions are received from the employee’s treating physician;
- Clearly outline and specify what the proposed job duties will be and do not use language such as “any other duties that are within the claimant’s restrictions.” These kinds of general offers will almost always be rejected by the Industrial Commission;
- Ensure that the claimant receives the light duty offer and that you have proof of receipt. Sending the offer via certified mail is often best for this reason; and
- Do not include vague or ambiguous language in the offer, and do not attempt a “one size fits all” approach to drafting your light duty offer letters.
If light duty work is not available at your company, consider a Modified Duty Off Site (MDOS) program. These programs place injured workers at non-profit organizations in a light duty capacity for a flat referral fee. Injured workers receive wages from the employer and must continue to comply with the original employer’s handbook and all other work/attendance requirements.
If a valid light duty offer is extended to the injured worker and the injured worker refuses the position, the employer may argue against the employee receiving continued temporary total disability compensation based on the “refusal of a light duty job offer.” However, the Industrial Commission must agree that the light duty offer was valid to deny or terminate the injured worker’s compensation. Knowing exactly how to present the offer will keep employees working and employers’ costs down.
A sample light duty job offer letter is available on Pg. 38 of the Procedural Guide for Ohio Self-Insured Employers: