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Light Duty After a Work Injury — Do I have to Accept Light Duty Work?

cropped view of worker with broken arm in bandage standing near table in office, compensation concept

Workers who are injured on the job in California have a number of rights, including the right to workers’ compensation coverage. Their workers’ comp coverage and whether they are able to go on disability, however, turn in part on their diagnosis and the severity of their injuries. Workers who can return to work in some capacity may be asked to do so, even if they are placed on “light” or “modified” work duty. What if the employee does not want to accept light duty work? Read on to learn about light or modified duty after a workplace injury. If you’ve been hurt on the job in Southern California, get help filing your claims from a qualified California workplace injury attorney.

What is Light or Modified Duty?

Workers who are injured on the job but who are not completely disabled may be asked to return to work under modified circumstances. The employer may ask them to come back to work subject to accommodations for their injuries. Workers are, in fact, expected to remain on the job during workers’ compensation if they are able to do so, with or without modifications.

Modified or light duty generally means working under the same employer but with different job duties intended to accommodate the worker’s injuries. They may omit lifting, carrying, or pulling, for example. They may be given a different position at the workplace that requires less strenuous activity or that avoids triggering the worker’s specific injury. The type of modified work and the accommodations will depend on the diagnosis, the work restrictions given by a doctor, and the employer’s ability to find modified or light duty work for the employee.

The employer will need to determine if they can give the employee work based on the work restrictions imposed by the primary treating physician. If the employer cannot find light or modified work for the employee, the employee can receive temporary disability benefits until they can return to work.

Can I Refuse Light Duty?

Employees are not guaranteed disability coverage if they don’t need it. They only get disability coverage if they are unable to perform their job duties and if their employer is unable to assign them light or modified work.

If an employer offers light or modified duty to an employee, the employee can refuse to accept the modified duty, but it will affect their workers’ compensation benefits. They could lose out on vocational rehabilitation benefits and temporary disability benefits.

Moreover, an employer is not required to wait for an employee to fully recover after a workplace injury. So long as the employer is not retaliating against the employee for seeking or obtaining workers’ compensation benefits, the employer can choose not to keep the worker’s job open until they return. Employers covered by the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) are required to give employees 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons. After those 12 weeks, or for employers who are not covered (those with fewer than 50 employees), employers can choose to let a worker go. The employee is still guaranteed appropriate workers’ compensation benefits.

It is important to note that this reasoning presumes the worker can perform modified duty but is simply unwilling to do so. If the employee finds that the modified duty is still too difficult in light of their injuries, they can ask the physician to change their work restrictions or find that the light-duty work violates the established restrictions. If the employee’s physician makes such a determination, the employer must offer different light-duty work; if the employer cannot, then the employee can collect temporary disability benefits.


If you have a claim for workers’ compensation in California and want to make sure you get the maximum coverage available, call Invictus Law today at 949-287-5711 and speak with a dedicated California workers’ compensation attorney to evaluate your claim.

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