Light job offers

On the one hand, L&I offers cost reimbursement to employers. Here, employers are eligible to recover costs when they accommodate employees after a work injury and offer them light duty. L&I refers to this program as Stay at Work (WA-SAW). Explicitly, if a work injury claimant has limitations due to conditions related to the claim, the employer may offer work that meets those limitations. Interestingly, L&I considers light work to be valid if it meets the following criteria:

1) The workplace injury claimant must have limitations due to the conditions that relate to their workers’ compensation claim. These limitations should affect your ability to work.

2) The employer must submit a written (and detailed) job description for light duty to the treating physician.

3) The serving provider must approve the light duty in writing.

Once the criteria are met, the employer can make a light job offer to the worker. Light duty job openings vary significantly between employers and industries. For example, grocery stores frequently offer storekeepers or proofreaders light jobs as receptionists. Also, another good example is sedentary office work. Also, if the wages for the new job are 5% less (or lower) than what the worker earned before, then the worker can claim loss of purchasing power benefits.

The financial incentives of this program are advantageous for employers. In fact, the program has many other benefits as well. On the one hand, after a work accident, it helps keep employers and employees connected during the recovery process. In addition, it creates less ambiguity regarding the employee’s employment status. These benefits are only realized when the program is used for the right reasons. Unfortunately, all too often, that is not the case.

The Light Duty Reality in Some L&I Claims

I’ve seen employers offer light “jobs” like watching safety videos throughout the work shift. I’ve also seen light “job” offers that involve sitting at a desk doing nothing. These are clearly not legitimate light duty jobs and the sole intention behind them is to save costs. Sometimes employers ask workplace injury claimants to perform tasks outside of the details in their job description. Other times, employers require the worker to perform tasks that are contraindicated by explicit medical limitations. Realistically, many complain of harassment and bullying while trying to do light work.

Some employers tell light-duty employees to schedule medical appointments and treatments after hours. This can be difficult, if not impossible. Lastly, many workers place themselves under a performance microscope while doing light work. For example, when the employer writes them to be one minute late. Another example is when the employer writes to them about playing a game on their cell phone out of sheer boredom because light duty was a desk job doing nothing. Yet another is writing to the employee because he places his swollen foot on a desk shelf to reduce pain and swelling, while doing work that does nothing. These are all real life examples. Surprisingly, when inspecting personal records, one must wonder why this excessive performance monitoring did not occur prior to the work injury or occupational illness.

Advocating for people with a workers’ compensation claim

In the past, employers and white-collar workers have criticized me for my criticism of L&I programs like WA-SAW. Proponents of the program cite studies, graphs and data showing that returning to work early (even light jobs) dramatically reduces long-term disability. I do not dispute these findings. I also want the workers I represent to regain their quality of life, including their full income-earning potential, as soon as possible. However, I believe that the WA-SAW program is often misused and does not achieve its intended goals.

Too often, when employers use the program solely to save costs without considering the feelings or needs of the workplace injury claimant, I see workers bitter with their employer. I see work environments turn hostile, mental health conditions develop, and L&I claims become unnecessarily contentious. It is for that reason that I will continue to advocate for a more worker-centered review of these incentive programs.

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