Now that you're feeling and getting better after the recent surgery, on-the-job injury or other medical condition, you may be thinking about going back to work. But before you can return, your doctor has to release you to work. If he wants you to abide by physical restrictions as you heal, such as not lifting heavy objects or other restrictions, he provides a note to give your employer. Whether you can be fired or not for going on light-duty depends on specific circumstances. Many employers may accommodate your medical restrictions in your current position, while others may offer you modified or light duty in another job instead.
When a doctor places medical restrictions on you because of a medical condition or injury, you need to let your employer know that you need light-duty work. As an employee, you have several protections available to you as you heal. Protections may fall under one of two laws: state workers' compensation laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Unless you work for the federal government, workers' compensation programs are managed at the state level. Workers' comp commissions, labor departments or similar divisions set the parameters for coverage under workers' compensation laws. Except for Texas, states require employers to carry this no-fault insurance. Workers' comp covers medical treatment, disability payments, permanent injuries, job re-training and even provides death benefits to family members. In most states, employers offer modified or light-duty work after your on-the-job injury if you need it.
Family and Medical Leave Act
Don't confuse your right to get your job back under state and federal Family and Medical Leave Act laws with light-duty work. While your job is protected after you have a serious medical condition and return to work, your employer has no obligation under FMLA to provide modified or light-duty work if you cannot do your regular job. If your medical needs become serious enough or rise to the level of a medical disability as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, you may have a right to light-duty work.
Americans With Disabilities Act
Under ADA, a qualified person with a disability has a right to reasonable accommodations to perform a job. This law also dictates the circumstances by which your employer can ask for your personal medical information -- and to what extent. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces ADA, but your state may also have laws in place about employment discrimination because of a physical disability. Medical conditions that require temporary light duty don't fall under ADA.
In the U.S., most states treat the employment agreement between an employer and employee as an at-will agreement. Without an employment contract that states otherwise, your employer can fire you for almost any reason unless doing so is illegal under the law. Under FMLA, your employer can request certification that you are fit to work. If you cannot provide this, you could lose your job -- he doesn't have to offer light-duty work. But if you sustained an on-the-job injury and need light-duty work because of your injury, it is illegal for him to fire you. If you qualify for physical accommodations because you sustained a permanent disability, ADA indicates that your employer cannot harass, discriminate or fire you because of that disability. Depending on your individual situation, you need to contact your state's labor board, the EEOC, your state's workers' compensation division or an attorney to better understand your options and rights.
- Texas Department of Insurance: Workers' Compensation
- California Department of Industrial Relations: Workers Compensation in California -- A Guidebook for Injured Workers
- California Department of Industrial Relations: Helping Injured Workers Return to Work
- Welch&Condin Workers Compensation: Light Duty Work
- DVM 360: Firing Employees on Workers' Comp Can Present Challenges
- HR.BLR.com: Workers’ Compensation -- When Can Employer Terminate a Worker With a Claim?
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Disability Discrimination
- U.S. Department of Labor: FMLA Frequently Asked Questions
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.