January 12, 2007
LIGHT-DUTY WORKERS' COMPENSATION REQUIREMENTS IN CONNECTICUT AND OTHER STATES
By: John Moran, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of the workers' compensation (WC) law that requires injured employees who are recovered enough from their work-related injury to work, but are not recovered enough to do their regular job, to seek “light duty” work in order to maintain their WC benefits. You also asked whether neighboring states have similar provisions.
In Connecticut, claimants who receive WC benefits for a temporary partial disability must accept any “light-duty” work that their current employers offer as long as a physician has cleared them for such work. If no appropriate light duty work is available, claimants must look for such work in their geographic area and report weekly “employment contacts” in order to demonstrate a job search and keep receiving benefits.
We looked at three other nearby states. All required an employee to take light-duty work with their original employer, if it is available. New York and Vermont both require some type of job search for claimants who are medically approved to do some work but are not ready to return to their old jobs. Rhode Island does not have a job search requirement for claimants receiving temporary partial disability benefits.
The Workers' Compensation Act requires employers to offer their employees light duty work, if such work is available, whenever an employee is recovered enough from a work-related injury to do light-duty work (CGA § 31-313). If the employee refuses the work or, in situations where the employer does not have appropriate work, does not submit proof of weekly job search contacts, then the employee's wage-replacement benefits can be cut. Benefits covering medical costs of work-related injuries are not affected.
Claimants continue to receive benefits until they (1) are recovered enough to return to their normal jobs or (2) reach their maximum medical improvement and may seek permanent partial disability status under WC.
As in Connecticut, a claimant in New York can lose wage-replacement benefits if he or she (1) turns down light-duty work offered by the original employer or (2) does not show proof of a job search. Benefits for medical expenses are not affected.
New York workers' compensation officials indicate the requirement to look for light-duty work emanates from well established case law that holds “the claimant has an obligation to demonstrate an attachment to the labor market with evidence of a search for employment within medical restrictions,” (2006 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13544; 823 N.Y.S.2d 630).
Vermont WC regulations provide that a claimant who has been medically released to return to work with limitations and either fails or refuses to return to work, may have his or her wage replacement benefits cut. The regulations require a benefit termination notice to document that (1) the claimant was notified of his or her medical release for suitable work and obligation to “conduct a good faith search for suitable work,” and (2) the claimant either failed to conduct a good faith search or has refused an offer of suitable work (VT Rule 18.1300).
Specific steps to demonstrate a job search, such as reporting contacts with possible employers, are not required. Vermont officials say workers' compensation court judges determine what a “good faith” search is on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the totality of the facts.
Rhode Island does not require claimants receiving temporary partial disability benefits to search for a job, but it does require they take light-duty work with their original employer, if it is available. If the employer has suitable light-duty work and the claimant turns it down, the claimant's benefits are reduced as if the person had taken the job and benefits were reduced accordingly (R.I. General Laws, § 28-33-18.2).
When a claimant reaches maximum medical improvement and is determined to have a permanent partial disability, the statute permits, but does not require, a WC judge to “take into consideration the performance of the employee's duty to actively seek employment” when considering the claim (R.I. General Laws, § 28-33-18). Matt Carey, the director of the Rhode Island Division of Workers' Compensation, said this option for the judge to look at the employee's job-search efforts is not generally seen as a mandate on the claimants.