Modified duty assignments may be either an altered version of the employee’s current work tasks or a completely unrelated task. Many employers are resistant to establishing modified duty programs having the thought that those programs were considered to be comprised of effortless lesser-valued tasks. In fact, modified duty is simply temporarily modifying a job or an employees’ task until recovery from a job related injury has been achieved. Very few employers state that they cannot modify any of their jobs. Workers’ compensation insurance is a significant expense for employers.
Modified duty programs assist in controlling increased workers’ compensation premiums by reducing the amount of Indemnity (lost wages) paid for a work related injury. Employees that have experienced work related injuries may have work restrictions applied to them provided by their physician thus, preventing them from performing their regular tasks. By participating in a modified duty program, the employer can better control the recovery of the employee ensuring compliance to physical restrictions and any prescribed stretching/strengthening exercises. If the employee remains off duty, the employer has little control of the activities the employee engages in while away from work. Modified duty programs also send the message that a work related injury is not a “paid vacation”. By consistently implementing a modified duty program employees are made aware that the recovery time is not necessarily spent at home watching TV and eating bonbons. The injured employee, partnered with another employee, could be performing a percentage of their current job requirements provided they are in compliance with their physical restrictions, therefore preventing the company from hiring an additional person to compete those tasks. The injured employee might also be assigned a task that needs to be completed but just hasn’t been taken care of.
Modified duty may include activities such as painting, filing, shredding, cleaning the office parking lot, cleaning windows, watching a series of safety videos, partnering with co-workers to help management create Job Safety Analysis of different jobs, take notes to for management to create written procedures of tasks being performed, fulfill general custodial activities, verify that all safety type signage is not obstructed from view, etc. Once you begin making a list of modified duty activities, the ideas just keep flowing. Some employers have taken the stance of “Whole man or no man”; meaning the employee is either working at 100% capacity or not working. This attitude reflects the thought that if an employee is not working at 100% capacity they are of no use to the company. In all honesty, who has employees that perform at 100% of their capacity every day? Consider paying an employee that can work at 60% productivity or paying an employee to sit at home with 0% productivity. Having an injury that has incurred indemnity loss has a significant effect on the company’s future workers compensation premiums. It is better to have the employee return to work receiving their current rate of pay for decreased productivity as opposed to having increased premiums. If the injured employee never reaches what the employer considers being 100% productive, the injured employee then has a legal disability, regardless of whether it is an actual physical disability or an employer-perceived disability.