While it is safe to say that light duty is a great way to re-introduce injured employees back to the work force, sometimes the way it is handled can be more of a “backwards” step in the healing process.
Let’s look at this case that recently came out of the state of New Jersey. The state has a provision that says if an employer offers light duty to their employee and they don’t take that alternative job, the employer has the right to withhold temporary disability benefits.
Sometimes, that light duty job doesn’t compensate the employee nearly as much as their before-injury duties. Maybe instead of working 40 hours a week they are now working four hours a week and receiving a lower wage than their benefits rate. This is where things get hairy, because the state doesn’t really have any provisions or court cases to go on when that situation occurs.
This case, Soto v. Herr’s Foods tries to come up with a solution.
In January of 2011, Jose Soto was injured at work and subsequently underwent two knee surgeries in February and December of that year. In January of 2012 the doctors recommended that he start light duty. Four hours a day at first then slowly progressing to eight hours a day. When he was working his normal job full time he earned $976.15 a week, meaning he would earn $683.31 a week on temporary disability. With his light duty work he would be looking at $329.43 a week- considerably less than what he would have gotten had he still been on temporary disability.
Soto asked that his employer make up the difference but they refused, which led him to bring the case to court. The judge ruled that the worker is entitled to temporary disability benefits of up to 70% of their normal wages. The judge said that if the employer would have been responsible for paying the temporary disability rate anyway, it seems unfair that they pay him so much less. They should be responsible for that full $683.31 a week. In the court’s eyes, even though that employee could do limited light duty work they are still temporary disabled. They should be able to receive at least that much compensation until the doctor deems them MMI or back to full health.
There was another similar case out of NJ that the judge cited where the court decided that an injured worker who could still perform his hobbies was still eligible for temporary disability benefits. Though the employer did not offer him any kind of light duty as an alternative.
Temporary disability benefits are there to help the employee get by in a time when they are recovering and may be suffering added financial strains. Paying just under half of what was a reduced salary to begin with would not help the worker ease that financial burden.