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    Man performing work on a machine in a factory

    South Carolina, like most states, provides workers’ compensation benefits for people who are injured while on the job. The objective of the employer-paid insurance program is to support injured employees financially until they can return to work from their workplace injury.

    Many injured workers initially return to light-duty work at their place of employment. As a workers’ comp benefits recipient, you must accept light work if it is ordered. If you do not accept, your workers’ comp financial benefits may be cut off. If you believe that you are not yet able to do the light duty work assigned, you have the right to a hearing before the workers’ compensation commission.

    If you feel that your employer is forcing you to return to work before you have adequately recovered from your workplace injury, you should seek dependable legal guidance. The South Carolina workers’ compensation system has complicated rules and appeal procedures. A knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney at Joye Law Firm may be able to help you appeal a back-to-work order and maintain your benefits until you are fully recovered and ready to return to work.

    The attorneys at Joye Law Firm have proudly represented injured people in South Carolina for more than 50 years. Call us at 888-324-3100 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation to discuss your legal options.


    What Is Light Duty for Workers’ Compensation?

    At some point during an injured worker’s recovery, the treating physician may clear them to return to work subject to various limitations based on the nature of their injury. If the employer can accommodate the work restrictions ordered, the employer may offer the worker their former position with lighter duties or another position within the limitations and restrictions provided by the treating physician.   Assuming that the work offered meets the treating physician’s criteria, the employee must return to the light duty work or forfeit their financial workers’ compensation disability benefits.

    Employers are not required to create positions to accommodate employees cleared for light duty. If there is no suitable position available, the employee’s status as a workers’ compensation beneficiary should not change.

    Do I Get Workers’ Comp Benefits While on Light Duty?

    When an employee accepts light duty work, their workers’ comp wage replacement benefits will end if they are returned to their previous rate of pay or higher pay. However, employers usually pay less for light-duty work. In this case, the employee should start receiving partial wage-replacement benefits to ensure they continue to receive the full two-thirds of the average weekly wages they earned before the injury.

    Workers’ compensation continues to cover all reasonable medical expenses related to your occupational injury or illness while you work in a light-duty role.

    If light-duty work proves too strenuous for your condition, you can ask the treating physician to change your status back to disabled. At this point, your full disability benefit should resume.

    Examples of Light Duty Work

    Two business partners working together at warehouse performing light duty after a work injury.

    Light duty is temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less demanding than normal job duties, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    When an injured employee is cleared for light duty, the employer may:

    • Allow them to return to their existing role but modify their regular duties to accommodate their physical limitations or medical needs
    • Create a position specifically for an injured worker who is unable to complete some essential functions related to their pre-injury role. However, the law does not require them to do so.
    • Assign the employee work that is entirely different from their previous role
    • Reduce or change the hours the employee is required to work
    • Decline to offer the employee light duty work if no appropriate role is available.

    The goal of asking an injured employee to take a light-duty position should be to help them transition back to their regular job duties safely.

    A light-duty assignment may consist of the following:

    • Administrative/office work, such as answering phones, entering data, filing records, and sorting and delivering mail
    • Training other workers, such as conducting new-hire orientations, peer workshops, safety talks, and one-on-one training
    • Equipment inspections, such as safety checks, gear inspections, and equipment maintenance and repair
    • Inventory management, such as hands-off ordering, shipping, and receiving work; sales and purchase ledger filing; and material recordkeeping
    • Maintenance, such as light housekeeping and janitorial work, minor repair work, and hazard identification
    • Security/reception, such as greeting, registering, and guiding job-site visitors and monitoring security cameras

    Can I Refuse Light Duty On Workers’ Comp?

    No one can force you back to work if you do not think you are ready. However, your employer and their workers’ comp insurance administrator are likely to terminate your disability benefits (and your employment) if you decline to report for light duty after being cleared to do so by your treating physician.

    You cannot simply refuse light duty and retain your worker’ comp benefits, but you can ask the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission to reverse your clearance for light duty. This commission administers the workers’ compensation system and hears appeals of decisions regarding workers’ comp benefits.

    If you are directed by your doctor to return to light-duty work, and you think you have not recovered sufficiently from your workplace injury, notify your employer in writing and ask for a delay. If you are not given a later starting date, you need to report to work on the date your employer requires, or you risk termination of your financial benefits.

    As you prepare for a potential return to work, you should contact an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer.

    How Our S.C. Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help

    Our workers’ compensation attorneys with Joye Law Firm can represent you in an appeal of a workers’ compensation insurer’s directive. The first step in the appeals process is an informal conference with representatives of your employer (typically their workers’ compensation lawyer) and the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. The goal of the meeting is to try to resolve the dispute about your claim without going through a hearing, which is a formal judicial proceeding.

    If we cannot reach an acceptable resolution for you at the informal conference, we will request a hearing. At a formal hearing before a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, our attorneys would present medical evidence to support your claim that you have not recovered sufficiently to return to work, even in a light-duty role.

    To maintain your eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, you must continue to see and follow doctor’s orders from the treating physician approved by your employer’s workers’ comp insurer.. But you are not prohibited from seeing another doctor for a second opinion.

    If needed, we can refer you to a medical specialist who understands the South Carolina workers’ compensation program and what information commissioners are seeking. Our presentation in support of your appeal would include your second doctor’s medical opinion sworn to in a deposition.

    An appeal is initially heard by one commissioner. If that commissioner rules against you, you can request that a three-member panel of commissioners review the decision. If you are dissatisfied with the ruling of the three-member panel, you can appeal to the full Workers’ Compensation Commission. Joye Law Firm will vigorously represent you at each step of the appeals process, as necessary.

    Once a case has been decided by the full Commission, it is rare that it would be appealed to the courts. However, cases that may ultimately have an impact on workers’ compensation law can be appealed to the South Carolina Circuit Court or Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

    Experience Defending Injured Workers

    After working at a company for many years, it is reasonable for employees to believe that their employer and their employer’s insurance company have their best interest at heart, but sadly, that is often not the case. Joye Law Firm has extensive experience representing injured workers, including those who are having trouble with a light duty work restriction.

    Managing partner of the Joye Law Firm, Kenny Harrell, represented a Summerville diesel mechanic after he was hurt on the job. After his initial work injury and workers’ compensation claim, he was able to return to work on light duty, however, after a few months his doctor increased his restrictions on a permanent basis. It was at this time that his employer determined they could not continue to pay him to do light duty work and they were going to let him go.

    The insurance company offered $32,000 to settle his case, but Atty. Ken Harrell encouraged him to get a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon before deciding to settle. After a thorough medical review, the man’s new doctor concluded that he had a 40% impairment of his spine. He was also evaluated by a vocational consultant. The vocational consultant determined that his physical restrictions, combined with his limited educational and vocational background, were such that he could not compete for suitable or comparable work in the open job market.

    The mechanic’s case was settled for almost five times the amount the adjuster originally offered, $150,000. The terms of the injured worker’s settlement also included lifetime medical coverage for any complications related to his surgery and increased his monthly Social Security disability benefit to almost three times the original amount.

    Read more about this workers’ compensation case here.

    Contact Our South Carolina Workers’ Comp Lawyers

    If you have been receiving workers’ compensation disability payments and feel that you have been improperly ordered to return to light duty at work, let our South Carolina workers’ comp attorneys review your workers’ compensation claim and your current medical records. Our attorneys at Joye Law Firm will make every effort to ensure you have adequate time to recover from your injuries and that you receive all of the workplace injury benefits available to you by law while you recover.

    Sometimes an employer means to support an injured employee but does not fully understand the extent of their injuries and limitations. Our workers’ compensation lawyers can provide you with a free case evaluation and pursue your workers’ compensation benefits appeal to its full extent. We only receive a legal fee if we are successful in obtaining benefits for you. Joye Law Firm has offices in CharlestonColumbiaClintonSummerville, and Myrtle Beach. We’re also happy to come to you. Our workers’ compensation attorneys handle cases from across South Carolina. Contact us today at 888-324-3100 or online.

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