Some people can recover quickly and return to work after a workplace injury. For me, that’s the best L&I claim outcome. However, these are two separate topics. I genuinely believe that they must go together. First and foremost is the recovery. Then, it’s all about returning to work.


Return-to-work program

Sometimes, I worry that the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is cutting corners. I’m concerned that they lost sight of the importance of recovery. Instead, it feels like L&I focuses on early return to work. That’s because of academic studies. More specifically, they researched the length of time before returning to work.


If more time passes, it’s more likely that work injury claimants suffer longer term disability. Personally, I believe that if more time goes by, it’s certainly harder to start working again. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to return people to work without proper recovery.


Vocational counselors and early intervention

It’s obvious that L&I is trying to return work injury claimants to work as quickly as possible. Evidently, they started assigning vocational counselors to claims earlier. Before, we used to call this “early intervention”. But now they call it “vocational recovery”.


Vocational counselors work with employers during the vocational recovery phase. They collaborate to get the injured worker back to work fast. Usually, the employer must decide if light duty or modified duty work is available. In other words, they consider any jobs that people can do within their activity prescription according to the attending provider.


Light duty job and modified duty jobs

Employers receive financial incentives from light work or modified duty work. In my experience, some employers are surprised to learn about these incentives. When they do, they find accommodating options. Even when they previously said none were available.


Light duty work doesn’t have to be a job that’s generally available in the workforce. Unfortunately, to take advantage of incentives, L&I permits employers to create jobs that don’t really exist. For example, one light duty job was having workers watch safety videos the entire day. Ridiculous, isn’t it?


Made-up light duty job offers

Often, Work injury claimants often receive offers for light duty work they never expect to do. For instance, additional examples for light duty jobs include polishing silverware and dusting computer equipment. I’ve also seen workers scanning documents and greeting customers all day long.


Don’t get me wrong. There are cases where light jobs or work modifications serve the purpose perfectly. They keep work injury claimants attached to the workforce during recovery. Moreover, they help maintain good employer-employee relationship through the recovery process. However, sometimes these light or modified jobs are insulting and impractical. They can even interfere with getting proper treatment and recovery.


Is this helping injured workers?

When workers perform impractical jobs, it leads to frustration, stress, and anxiety. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the relationship between the employer and the worker. Consequently, it delays recovery. Many work injury claims report various degrees of retaliatory treatment.


Some clients tell me that they brought such issues to their vocational counselor and claim administrator. However, they weren’t given any serious consideration. What’s more, some work injury claimants decide to not accept a light duty or modified job. But then, they close their vocational recovery services. After that, L&I also stops paying time-loss benefits.


Summary and wrapping up

The vocational recovery program and early return to work can be wonderful. However, it doesn’t apply to everyone. We must advocate for proper light duty assignments. Otherwise, early return to work can be unfair to work injury claimants. When improper, it can easily impede and delay the recovery process.