(434) 384-9400 Lynchburg Office

(540) 554-3762 Roanoke Office

Serving Clients Throughout Virginia

Ultimate Guide to Light-Duty Work While on Workers’ Compensation in Virginia


This primer on “light duty work” in the Virginia workers’ comp system explains what can be a confusing term. Depending on who’s using the term: a medical professional, an insurance company, an employer, or the worker themselves, light duty work can mean different things. This primer will try to clear things up, explaining along the way what you need to do and the payments you should receive. If you have questions on any of this, please get in contact with us at Slominski Law.

What is light-duty work?

In the context of workers’ compensation, light-duty work is work that’s less demanding than the job you had prior to your injury. For example, if you were a factory technician or a construction worker who previously did all sorts of physical tasks, a light-duty position for you might be one that doesn’t require heavy-lifting or long hours of standing.

A light-duty work status means your doctor has found that you are no longer totally disabled. You are now able to work but with particular restrictions. While this can be good news, it also comes with certain responsibilities such as looking for a light-duty job that accommodates your medical restrictions. (We discuss these obligations in a section below.)

Light-duty work is also referred to as “modified duty,” “restricted duty,” “transitional work,” “temporary alternative assignment,” or “selective employment.”

When do I get light-duty work status?

Many occupational injuries result in temporary total disability, meaning your doctor has declared that you are completely unable to work. As your health improves over time, you may regain some capacity to perform your tasks. Your doctor may release you for light duty when they find that you’ve recovered enough to do some work.

Sometimes, however, employers and insurance adjusters will call a disabled worker’s doctor to try to get the worker back on light-duty status. Anytime your physician changes your work status, talk to them to clarify the change. If you’re unsure about any of the changes, consult a trusted workers’ comp lawyer.

If you yourself are eager to return to work after a disabling injury, you can discuss with your doctor about your light-duty potential. You can raise the subject at any of your visits, though some medical providers are reluctant to give return-to-work recommendations. An experienced attorney should be familiar with providers in your area who can help you pinpoint your work restrictions.

What are medical restrictions or work restrictions in Virginia workers’ comp?

Upon releasing you for light duty, the doctor should give you a list of medical restrictions, which are specific tasks you cannot or should not perform given your current health. Some common work restrictions are:

  • No lifting, pushing, or pulling objects heavier than 20 pounds.
  • Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures.
  • No reaching up over shoulder level.
  • No standing for a total of six hours or more in one day.
  • Avoid fast-paced or high-stress situations.

Remember to get everything in writing, because employers and workers’ comp insurers will only recognize work limitations if you have your doctor’s expressly written statements. Don’t rely on medical records that only show your diagnosis, as a diagnosis is not the same as a work restriction list. Further, if any dispute arises involving your light-duty restrictions, written documentation will be valuable evidence you can use.

What do I need to do once the doctor has released me for light duty?

We mentioned above that a light-duty work status entails certain responsibilities. You need to do these things if you’ve been released for light duty:

Ensure written documentation.

Make copies of your doctor’s notes and give a written notification to your employer. Make sure they get a copy of your work restrictions. This gives your employer a chance to offer you a light-duty job, if they have a position that suits your restrictions.

Look for a light-duty job.

If your workers’ compensation claim is pending – that is, you haven’t yet obtained an Open Award for wage loss benefits – you’re required by law to actively look for a job that accommodates your light-duty restrictions. You may get a job at your current company, if they have a light-duty one suited for you. If the company cannot provide you one, you must seek a light-duty job somewhere else, following Virginia’s guidelines (which we discuss below).

Participate in Vocational Rehabilitation.

If you currently have an Open Award for wage loss benefits, you don’t need to look for a job even if you’ve been released for light duty. However, your employer may enter you into a Vocational Rehabilitation program that’s meant to ease you back to work. Refusing to participate in this program may prompt your employer to terminate your benefits. Consult a workers’ comp lawyer to protect your rights.

Likewise, if you would like to return to work but your company has no light-duty position for you, you may request to undergo Vocational Rehab at the company’s expense.

Note that an “Open Award” is not the same as an “Award Agreement.” An “Award Agreement” is a document you negotiate with the workers’ comp insurance company. Even if it’s signed by all parties, it is not official until the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has approved it. Once the Commission approves, it will convert the agreement into an Open Award, which is the document that matters for your wage loss benefits.

Is my employer required to give me light-duty work?

Under Virginia state law, employers are not required to offer light-duty work to injured employees. There are, however, federal laws that may help protect your job at your current company.

For instance, under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (FMLA), employers must provide reasonable accommodations for an employee whose job-related injury substantially limits their capacity. The company may, for example, modify your regular job so that you wouldn’t have to do tasks that are medically restricted. There’s also the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives an employee up to 12 weeks’ leave each year while keeping their job secure.

Am I required to accept my employer’s light-duty work offer?

This depends on whether the light-duty offer accommodates all your medical restrictions. If any part of the job offer breaches your restrictions, you may refuse to accept it while still protecting your workers’ comp. For instance, if your doctor specified that you cannot lift heavy objects yet your company invited you to work as warehouse staff, it may be within your rights to decline.

It’s best to speak with your doctor about any light-duty offers you get. Your physician can sign off on jobs you are able to do, but make sure first that they understand the physical and mental demands of the offered job.

What if my company doesn’t have light-duty work for me?

If your current employer has no available position to match your light-duty restrictions, your next steps depend on whether you have an Open Award for wage loss benefits.

If you have an Open Award (meaning the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has officially awarded you wage loss benefits), you can keep receiving benefits even if you don’t find work outside the company.

If you don’t have an Open Award (meaning your workers’ comp claim is pending), you’ll need to show that you are actively looking for light-duty work outside your current employer. Without your “good faith” effort to find work, you may lose the right to receive benefits. Virginia has guidelines on what they consider to be “good faith search for work,” which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Again, we emphasize that an “Open Award” is not the same as an “Award Agreement.” Even if you already have a signed Award Agreement, the Workers’ Comp Commission still has to approve it and convert it to an Open Award.

What are the job-seeking guidelines when on light-duty status in Virginia?

When you’re required to seek light-duty employment, these are guidelines you must keep in mind to show the Workers’ Comp Commission that you are earnest in job-seeking:

  • Soon after you’re released for light duty, register with the Virginia Employment Commission (not the Workers’ Comp Commission) to show that you are on the market for a job.
  • Ask your current company if they have a light-duty position suited for you.
  • If your current employer can’t accommodate your light-duty restrictions, contact at least five other employers per week to ask if they have a suitable job for you.
  • Keep a record of all your job search efforts. List the names, contact details, and point persons of all the companies you’re inquiring with. Note when, where, and how your contact happened (for example, through an in-person visit or an online meeting). Write about the results of each meeting.
  • Focus first on employers and positions that may match your skill set. If this is unsuccessful, you can broaden your search.
  • If you get a light-duty job but it pays significantly less than your pre-injury job, you should keep looking for another one that pays higher. Remember to document this job search as well.

Will I receive less pay if I do light-duty work?

Virginia doesn’t require employers to provide light-duty workers the same salary level as their pre-injury pay. Thus, light-duty wages are often lower than regular wages. If you’re awarded temporary partial disability, the benefits may make up for some of the pay difference. Work with a reliable attorney in pursuing your fair compensation.

Will I receive workers’ comp benefits while on a light-duty job?

Yes, if you qualify for temporary partial disability and your light-duty job pays less than your pre-injury job, you may receive wage loss benefits. The amount is two-thirds of the difference between your pre-injury and post-injury wages, which you may receive for a maximum of 500 weeks.

My doctor gave me work restrictions but my employer wants me to do more. What should I do?

Employers must not pressure or force their employees to exceed their work restrictions. If you find that your employer is pushing you to perform tasks you shouldn’t do, talk to your doctor and clarify your work status. If your work restrictions remain the same, you can politely refuse to do any exceeding tasks. If you’re worried that your employer may retaliate or use your limitations against you, contact a workers’ comp attorney right away.

An additional option is for you to request the Workers’ Compensation Commission to order your employer to stop pushing you beyond your restrictions. Filing this motion creates a paper trail showing potential issues on the part of your employer. This may be helpful in the event that the employer accuses you of refusing available work. Again, you can best protect your rights when you work with an attorney who advocates for workers.

What if I can’t do the light-duty job that my doctor cleared me for?

Sometimes, even when medical restrictions are followed, a worker may still be unable to perform light-duty tasks. It may be because they’ve lost their conditioning or because they haven’t truly recovered enough for the job at hand.

As soon as you discover that you have physical or mental difficulties with your light-duty job, contact your doctor for a follow-up. Describe the specific issues you’re having and ask for updated work restrictions. You may also seek a second opinion from a different provider.

Will I get my regular job back once I’m no longer on light duty?

When your doctor removes your medical restrictions, it means you are now capable of doing full-duty work. Your employer, however, is not required to reinstate you to your regular job – this decision will be up to them entirely. You have the option to switch jobs as any worker would, without further medical requirements.

Conversely, if you’ve been cleared for full duty but your employer instead fires you or discriminates against you, you may have a wrongful retaliation claim. Consult a lawyer to see how you can pursue this claim and get your rightful compensation.

Contact Jaleh K. Slominski – Virginia Workers’ Comp Lawyer

Attorney Jaleh K. Slominski is one of the most trusted workers’ advocates in the Lynchburg and Roanoke area. For over 20 years, she has provided smart legal counsel and assertive representation to Virginia workers seeking proper compensation after their work accident. Ms. Slominski is also tenacious in protecting workers’ rights as they face employers and insurance companies in the complex workers’ comp system.

Consult Attorney Slominski if you have concerns about your return to work, or if you need any help with your workman’s comp claim. Call us at (434) 384-9400 in (Lynchburg) or (540) 554-3762 in (Roanoke).