Light Duty Options for a Successful Return to Work

July 23, 2019 • Previsor

If an employee is injured at work, your first priority is helping them get back to their best. An early return to work can lead to better outcomes for the injured worker and the employer, but their doctor might have given them work restrictions to follow during their recovery, and it’s crucial to respect those restrictions. That’s where transitional duty (or light duty) comes in.

Incorporating transitional duties into your return to work plan allows injured workers to return to work earlier with modified job duties. This helps them maintain their routine, be productive and recover faster – and it helps you control claim costs.

Develop your light duty plan

You don’t have to come up with your light duty plan in a bubble. You should seek input from the injured worker, their supervisor, their doctor, your HR team and, yes, your work comp provider.

Ask these questions to get started:

  • What light duty functions are daily tasks?
  • What tasks need to be completed?
  • Are there seasonal lighter tasks?
  • What tasks could the injured worker perform for shorter intervals?
  • Have you asked the employee what duties they could perform?
  • Can the employee perform work across departments?
  • Did the supervisor provide input?

Common light duty options

Coming up with options for transitional or light duties might be more straightforward in some industries than others. For businesses with physical locations or customer service teams, answering phones and greeting customers would work well for light duty. The owner of a small construction team might have a harder time thinking of opportunities for a recovering employee to return to work in a transitional role.

Ride-along and general assistance

One flexible option is to have the employee assist or ride along with other employees. This way, the recovering employee can jump in and help when possible but won’t be required to perform any tasks they’re not capable of.

A ride-along is a great opportunity for an employee to deepen their understanding of their coworkers’ roles and how the organization works as a whole. Many of us have our noses buried in our day-to-day tasks and don’t get the chance to spend time in others’ shoes. The employee “riding along” will learn things to take back to their own job and can even spot opportunities for efficiencies within the company.

Placement with a nonprofit organization

When no transitional duty is available for your recovering employee, consider placing them in a volunteer position with a nonprofit. Some work comp insurance carriers have programs in place to facilitate this process.

Here’s how it works: MEM’s Return to Work Coordinator works with Paradigm and the policyholder to identify the right fit between an employee and a nonprofit based on location and work restrictions. The policyholder pays the employee at least minimum wage while working at the nonprofit. If this wage is less than the employee’s average weekly wage in their regular role, MEM pays a portion of the difference.

Meanwhile, the recovering employee gains all the benefits of an early return to work, like receiving a paycheck, keeping a routine and staying productive. In one case, an MEM policyholder’s worker had a rotator cuff surgery and was under strict orders not to use that arm. There were no viable light duty options at the company, so the worker spent about six hours a day at a nonprofit thrift store while recovering. The store offered duties that could be done with one hand, like sorting merchandise and light cleaning.

A bakery employee processes a customer transaction

More transitional job duties

A return to work plan with transitional duties benefits the recovering employee and the employer. By helping the worker return sooner, you can avoid turnover and temp costs. You’ll also minimize the temporary total disability (TTD) payments associated with the claim, reducing its impact on your work comp premium.

If you’re coming up short on light duty ideas for your company, here are some options that might work:


  • Answer phones
  • Greet customers
  • Address correspondence
  • Order, inventory and organize parts and supplies
  • File, copy, sort or package


  • Cross-train employees
  • Help with training new hires
  • Review old files and records
  • Create or revise standard operating procedures


  • Perform safety analysis and inspections
  • Create or revise a safety manual
  • Work as a spotter


  • Maintain and inspect vehicles and equipment
  • Repair tools and equipment
  • Clean and improve premises

A return to work plan is as unique as your employee. Be sure to stay in regular communication with them throughout their recovery process. Remember that the injury is affecting their home life in addition to their ability to perform their regular job duties, and keep light duty options in mind to support your employee in a quick and thorough recovery.

Want more information about a Return to Work program? Check out this sample Transition Duty policy.

July 23, 2019
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