What can I do if my doctor clears me for “light duty” but my employer tells me to do work I know I’m not able to do, or that I’m not supposed to do?

A:   There are two things you can do to protect yourself:

a.  Make sure the problem doesn’t come up at all.  This is clearly the best thing to do.  How do you do it?  By making sure your doctor has a pretty good idea of the physical activities your job requires and is specific about the activities he wants you to avoid.

For example, a doctor’s restriction of “no heavy lifting” is meaningless.  What’s “heavy”?  You say something is too heavy and your boss insists it’s not.  If you lift it and you’re right, you injure yourself again.  If you lift it and don’t get hurt, or you don’t lift it at all, your boss will think you just don’t want to get back to work.  On the other hand, “no lifting more than 10 pounds” sets just the kind of restriction that can protect you.  How can you get your doctor to be specific?  Ask.  And if he’s reluctant, remind him that a specific restriction keeps him from being pestered later about what he really meant his restrictions to be.

b.  You have to stand up for yourself.  This is difficult, for sure.  You’re the employee and your boss has the power to let you go.  So if you are told to disregard your doctor’s order, be firm, but be polite.  (You can see why It really helps if your doctor has given you specific restrictions.)  In the end, you have to make sure the doctor’s orders are being followed, or you risk being hurt even further.

Most employers will be sure to give you light duty work that meets the doctor’s restrictions — after all, those restrictions are meant to keep you from getting hurt again.  But if your employer is pressing you to violate your doctor’s orders, it’s a good time to call your lawyer.  If you don’t have a lawyer, you may actually find help from your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance claim representative.  The insurance company wants to save money, and it saves the most when you get well, not worse.  The claim representative may actually call your employer to explain how following the doctor’s orders will save the employer money, too.

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