Employers can cut their workers’ comp costs by having injured employees return to work as soon as possible. That may mean offering them light-duty positions if they’re not ready to resume more demanding jobs.
But what happens if an employee rejects your light-duty offer? Typically, that’s considered a bad-faith action and workers’ comp benefits will stop. Employees can’t resume benefits unless their condition deteriorates to the point they’re fully disabled again.
But when an employee’s condition improves the second time, you don’t have to offer him or her another light-duty position.
Recent case: Duane Wolff, a truck driver, hurt his back at work and received full workers’ comp benefits. A year later, after his condition improved, his employer offered him a light-duty job. When Wolff declined, a workers’ comp judge suspended his benefits at the employer’s request.
Three years later, after back surgery for the original injury, Wolff again was totally disabled. He won full benefits for another year. When his condition improved, the company again asked the judge to cut his benefits. Wolff’s lawyers argued that since the company didn’t offer him a job or show one was available, the judge couldn’t cut benefits.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed. It ruled that since Wolff rejected the original job offer, his former employer wasn’t obligated to show it had work available a second time. It ordered his benefits cut. (Pitt Ohio Express v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board [Wolff], No. 54 WAP 2005, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 2006)