The reason employers must provide workers’ compensation insurance is to facilitate an employee returning to work following an accident or disease attributable to the person’s job activities. Ensuring injured workers receive proper medical care and are compensated for wages lost while they are out of work due to an injury with the ultimate aim being the person’s recover and eventual return to work.
Someone on a “no work” status in Arizona because of a decision by a treating physician may not return to work without jeopardizing his or her right to benefits. There are no time restrictions on returning to work. Workers’ compensation benefits may continue for as long as a person is out of work due to a work-related injury or disease. Issues arise when the doctor treating a worker certifies a return to light-duty work.
It could happen that during a worker’s recovery the treating physician approves a return to work but on a limited or light-duty basis. If this happens, workers’ compensation insurance carriers must notify the affected individuals of a change in their benefits status. Workers cleared to return to full duties or light duties must engage in a good faith effort to find suitable work.
Employers are under no legal obligation in Arizona to create a position suitable for a worker who receives a light-duty work clearance. Federal labor laws dictate that employers treat all workers who can return to work doing light duty the same.
In other words, an employer cannot accommodate one request for light duty while denying the same accommodation to another worker in a similar position. Employers also cannot pay someone less than another person doing the same job simply because of their light-duty designation
If an employer cannot accommodate an employee, the worker must seek employment elsewhere or risk losing workers’ compensation benefits. These efforts must be reported to the compensation insurance carrier along with the amount of any income the person earns, including unemployment benefits.
Workers’ compensation benefits, including lost wages, continue while a worker is on light duty. The lost wages benefit is reduced if the person is working to 66 2/3 percent of the difference between what the worker earns on light duty and the average monthly amount earned before the injury.
An injured worker who is cleared to return to work with light-duty restrictions would be entitled to refuse light-duty employment without losing family leave rights. However, the federal statute might not protect the individual’s rights to continue to collect workers’ compensation benefits under state law once the medical clearance has been granted.
Legal issues surrounding light-duty restrictions, the right to benefits and the effect of federal statutes should be discussed with an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney reviewing the facts and circumstances of a particular worker’s case can respond to questions and concerns the individual might have about benefits and light-duty restrictions.
If you have questions about an Arizona workers’ compensation claim, call the top attorneys in Phoenix to discuss and receive a free consultation. Arizona Injury Law Group has two Certified work comp lawyers!
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