Last Updated: 5/4/2023

Workers’ compensation benefits are available to workers in Des Moines if an employee becomes ill or injured during the scope of employment. In some situations the injury or illness prevents the employee from working at all. But there are many circumstances in which an employee can return to work, but with modifications to the workplace or job duties.

Light Duty for Employees on Workers’ Compensation

One option is light duty. Instead of performing the same job tasks pre-injury or illness, the employer provides duties that meet the doctor’s restrictions. These are indicated on the employee’s work status report.

Let’s say the employee’s regular job is on a loading dock in Des Moines where he must lift, move and stack packages. The doctor may indicate that the employee can’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.

As a result, the employer may temporarily take the worker off the loading dock and put him or her on other duties in an office or other setting where strenuous lifting isn’t required. Bear in mind, it is more common for an employer to offer a hurt worker an alternate job when he or she returns to work rather than his or her old job back.

Usually the new job is a temp-like position. It isn’t feasible for most employers to hold the exact same position open for an employee while he or she heals, as most often is the case, the original position was crucial to the running of the company.

The following are some examples of light duty jobs that an employee could be assigned:

  • inspections;
  • inventorying supplies, parts, tools;
  • replenishing supplies;
  • light assembly work;
  • sorting/delivering mail;
  • answering/making phone calls;
  • ordering supplies;
  • labeling/wrapping/shipping items; and
  • training new employees.

Another option for work restrictions is a reduced workload. This could include performing less of the same tasks normally completed. Some may be given modifications to their hours. For instance, they may be allowed to leave earlier in the day or work only three out of five days, for example.

Who determines if the worker needs work restrictions?

Returning to work under these circumstances is a decision made by the treating physician. An employee can’t set up light duty work or a reduced workload on his/her own. It must come from the doctor through a work status report, which the doctor will complete at each appointment.

It is the employee’s responsibility to submit this report to the supervisor within one business day of the appointment. This allows the employer time to comply with the restrictions.

Employees must accept any light duty tasks or reduced workload from the employer. A refusal could lead to termination of workers’ compensation benefits.

If there is a disagreement concerning the job duties—such as the employer not providing work that fits the guidelines stipulated by the doctor—workers should document the disagreement. Under Iowa law, an employer cannot require an employee to perform work a doctor says he or she shouldn’t do.

If an employer doesn’t have light duty work available, the employee is entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits. However, most employers are able to find suitable work for an employee. They are not allowed to fire an employee when required to provide these options. However, it may be justified if the employee refuses to accept light duty work.

Work Restrictions and Temporary Partial Disability Benefits

As mentioned, if accommodations can’t be made the employee is able to receive temporary total disability benefits until he or she returns to work or is medically capable of returning to similar employment, whichever occurs first.

However, if working with restrictions, temporary partial disability benefits would be available. The rate is just under 67 percent of the difference between average gross weekly earnings at the time the employee was injured and the actual earnings while temporarily working at a job that pays less.

Learn more about workers’ compensation in our free guide, Iowa Workers’ Compensation: An Insider’s Guide to Work Injuries – 7 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid if You are Hurt at Work

Corey Walker
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With over 28 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.