How would you go about implementing work limitations for a recovering employee? Can a Light Duty Program help your employees to return to their normal position faster?

In this podcast, I will be discussing how to create a return to work program for your injured workers. Having a fully-fledged out program for your company can make assigning light duty easy, and it helps protect the company’s liability.


A light-duty program is when you have an injured worker who has restrictions. You accommodate those restrictions by offering them some restricted duty that meets those restrictions. I like to call it a return to work because the ultimate goal is to get them to return to their normal position.

Light duty is an HR or a supervisor’s responsibility because it changes somebody’s job and makes sure that they’re working within that job. Still, it might not be that case in your workplace and you may be stuck managing it.

However, creating a plan ahead of time makes managing a light-duty program a lot easier.


  1. The first one is having a written process in place of assigning light duty.
  2. You want to create a list of every job possible that somebody with restrictions can do.
  3. You want the work to be meaningful, which is why we created the chart from JHA because JHA’s are tasks that are already in the workplace. So having them do these tasks means that it is meaningful to the company.
  4. Make it very clear that their new role is like every other employee. Yes, they have restrictions. But now, we are putting them in this new role while they have these restrictions
  5. Have a process in place for when they refuse to do the light-duty. Or they don’t show up for the light-duty. Write down on paper in a nice certified letter that you have proof that they received and make sure that you’re keeping the light-duty as close to their regular job as possible.

Seriously, I can go on for about forever because I love talking about light-duty, and there are so many ways that you can approach it. So make sure that you listen to my podcast for more detailed information about this.

Take Action

How did you approach light-duty or the return to work program in your company? If you have a hard time implementing this program, use the 5 essential pieces that I shared which you may want to include in your program. After you’ve done this, make sure to share your awesome experience in the comment below.

58 - Essentials of a Light Duty Program

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] You got injuries, right? Then you must have a light duty program or as I like to call it a return to work program, or are you just making it up as you go along? Well, my safety friend, there is value in taking the time to create a full blown RTW. Doing this in advance helps your team and it protects your company's liability.

So thanks for the question, Jay, let's get to it. This is safety, Bri, your number one safety geek. Why do we have the behaviors that we do superheroes in the workplace? Right? All of those things that go into making you an effective safety manager. I love what we do, motivation learning, teaching training, teamwork that why I geek out over that, just as much as I do safety.

Hello. Hello. Hello and welcome to the safety geek podcast. This is

[00:01:00] Brye, your number one safety geek. And if we are just meeting I coach and train workplace safety managers on how to do their job more effectively and efficiently giving them the skills to move up in their career and earnest in the C-suite.

So today we are talking about something near and dear to my heart. I cannot tell you how much I love a good return to work program because. I don't see many of them out there. So today's topic actually came in from Jay and he didn't ask anything specific. He just said, let's discuss light duty. And I was like, heck yes, let's do this thing.

So first off, because I don't like to assume what is. Uh, light duty program. So a light duty program is you have an injured worker who is given restrictions and you accommodate those restrictions by offering them some sort of

[00:02:00] restricted duty that meets those restrictions. We call it light duty. I like to call it a return to work because the ultimate goal is to get them to return to their normal position.

There are tons of ways that you can manage a light duty program. I am of the mindset that you keep them within the normal business and keep them working in your business and not sending them off to a charity organization to cover those hours. But I'm not going to get into that in this. Here's what normally happens at a lot of workplaces.

They have an injured worker. They are given the piece of paper from the doctor that says, Hey, they can only lift 10 pounds and they can't walk more than 15 minutes and they have to keep the wound clean and dry or whatever those restrictions happen to be. And the employer just takes those restrictions and just make something up that works.

Right. But there is value having a program in place. So that way, when that paperwork comes in, you can easily just look at your program and
[00:03:00] it will take all the guesswork out of what position you should put this person. And at the same time, when you have this program fully hashed out and available, you can hand off this responsibility to somebody else because when it comes to light duty, I do not believe the safety manager should be involved.

I think that we are excellent at managing claims. And you definitely want to check in with your injured employee and show care and compassion, but light duty is an HR or a supervisor's responsibility because it is changing somebody's job and making sure that they're working within that job, but anyway, it might not be that case in your workplace, but that is my belief.

But when you have this program in place, you can easily hand it off to somebody else. And the other thing about having this in place is that it sets clear rules that will stand up in court. A lot of employee injuries. And up in the court system, sometimes you get retaliation claims, like you made them do some sort of

[00:04:00] weird light duty that could add to the cost of the claim. But if you have this program, it clears that up. So today, what I want to talk about when you're developing this program, the five essential pieces that you want to make sure that you include in your return to work program. The very first one is having a written process in place of how you assign light duty.

This is like how they turn in their restrictions, who they give those restrictions to. What is your internal review process and assignment? So how many days is it going to be until you figure out a light duty assignment for this person who is going to give them that assignment? How are they notified of that assignment?

And is there going to be a change in pay? Now I do not recommend a change of pay. I will tell you that depends upon your state. So where I live in the state of Florida, I believe this is still the rule I haven't managed worker's comp in

[00:05:00] quite a while in the state of Florida, it's they have to earn 85% of their, of their average weekly wage.

So yes, you could lower their pay. I mean, that is within your rights, especially if you're taking somebody from a skilled labor position and you're putting them into a light duty position filing. Right. But all you're going to do, it's going to get paid in the workers' comp claim as indemnity payments anyway.

So it really doesn't make sense. So if you keep them at the same pay, one it keeps you in a better relationship with the employee. And it reduces the risk of legal action and two, it just makes everything easier. That way HR doesn't have to change anything. And no one has to worry about reporting hours and pay to workers' comp and all of that good stuff.

So anyway, so have that written process in place, figure out what that is and put it down in writing. Number two, you want to create a list of every job possible. That
[00:06:00] somebody with restrictions can do. And you might be saying, but I don't know what the restrictions are going to be. Well, I don't believe you.

Um, because honestly the restrictions are always the same. You know, the instructions are like they have a five pound lifting restriction, a 10 pound, a 20 pound. They have to be seated. They can't stand, there are medication they're on crutches, or they can't be within certain types of environments, like hot, cold, wet, those type of things.

Really those are the restrictions that we're talking about. Okay. So what you want to do is pull out your JJ's or JSA, if that is the camp that you're in and go task by task and go, what on this list, can somebody with a five pound restriction do a 10 pound restriction, a 20 pound restriction and create a list.

And the way that I like to do it is in a chart. So here we are in a podcast, can't really show you, but picture like an XL spread. And on column a on the

[00:07:00] left-hand side, you list the tasks and then your columns across BCDE and the heading is going to be on medication five pound lifting restriction, 10 pounds, no bending, no squatting, you know, those types of thing.

And then you just have these jobs and you go, okay. They can do all of these. And it'd be like a check mark, if they can. And an X, if they can't. So you end up having just this nice grid that you can look at, somebody go across the top and go, okay. They have a 10 pound lifting restriction and they're medicated, which are the tasks that have a check mark next to it.

Those are the things they can do. It creates a nice, easy to follow chart. And I want to thank my insurance company for sharing this little tip with me because that is who I got it from. And it just makes it super easy to assign light duty. When you can just look at a chart and go, well, these are the tasks you can do. That leads us to number three. The third essential piece is that you

[00:08:00] want the work to be meaningful, which is why we create the chart from our JHA has because our JHA's has are tasks that are already being done in the workplace. So having them do these tasks means that it is meaningful to the company. Now I have worked for companies who have.

Their employee who was light duty, stand in a squirrel costume by the road with a sign that said eat at Denny's. And I was horrified. It's actually one of the reasons why I left the company, but they were giving them light duty and their goal was to humiliate the employees. I talked to an insurance agent one time who told me a story of an employer who had a light duty employee count paperclips and said, this box says as a hundred paper clips, and we need to make sure that we're not being ripped off and that's obviously not meaningful.

And when you do things like that, it's like retaliation against the employee. There are better rules now in place about retaliation, but at
[00:09:00] the same time, it's not meaningful. And if you're not giving them meaningful work, they are more likely to take legal action against you. And when you have meaningful work in place, it actually creates a more well-rounded employee

in the end. So if I take this light duty employee and I say to them, look, I really need a hazard communication audit done. Like we, we have to audit our hazard communication, chemical list all the time that is meaningful work. And I tasked them to do that. And I show them how to do that and how to make sure all the STS is, are in our system.

They're actually learning something from it. And then in the end, Well-rounded employee, same thing. If you have them do a little bit of office work or something like that, it's much better for the company than having that light duty employee sitting there taking safety classes all day long. I've seen that too.

So that is step three is make sure that the work you're giving them is meaningful. Now. Number four,

[00:10:00] make it very clear that their new role is just like every other employee. They're not a special snowflake. Yes, they have restrictions. But now we are putting you in this new role while you have these restrictions, you are still just like every other employee.

You have a schedule. You are expected to be here on time. You will have breaks just like everybody else does. You will not have excessive breaks. If your restriction say, you have to sit down 15 minutes every hour, then we will put you in work where you can sit down 15 minutes every hour. You have to give them productivity goals and what you expect them to do.

They should be just as productive as anybody else doing that task. You have to make that very clear. If you are allowing your employees on light duty to just kind of milk the clock, then you're setting up a very bad influence. And that leads me to number five, which is have a process in place for when they refuse to

[00:11:00] do the light duty. Or they don't show up for the light duty. Now, first off it is well within their rights to refuse light duty, they don't have to do it. And a lot of times, if you have somebody who is like a total, you know, gung ho blue collar worker, and then you're going, well, the only light duty I have for you is to do a, has come.

They might be like, I don't want to do that. Well, they have the right to say, no, I don't want to do that and not lose their job. They just are saying no to indemnity benefits. It's not like the insurance company won't pay them now because you had light duty and they're refusing it. So don't take it personally

if they refuse it, it's really not a personal thing. It's a personal choice for them. It's nothing against the company. All right. Especially if you are giving them meaningful work. So what you want to make sure you have in place is a template ID letter that you can send to them that you are offering them light duty. Now, most of the time you're offering them this light duty

[00:12:00] verbally, and they're accepting it verbally, but I would still send the letter in case they don't show up. I would email it, I would mail it and I would certify. I know that seems like overkill, but people who tell you face-to-face that, yes, I will accept that light duty and I will do it.

You cannot trust that they are going to show up. They may change their mind. They may go, no, I really don't want to do this light duty or they may be confused. So in that letter, you should have who they're going to report to what the schedule is going to be, what the expectations are. So that way they understand what they're getting into.

All down on paper in a nice certified letter that you have proof that they received and make sure that you're keeping the light duty as close to their normal job as possible. I know this really doesn't fall anywhere. I have it under my number five, but it's probably a number six. Let's call this a bonus. Keep the light duty as close to their normal job as

[00:13:00] possible. Meaning their normal. They're normal supervisor, their normal job description. Like if they're a warehouse worker, then try to find them light duty in the warehouse reporting to the same supervisor that is always preferable because a lot of people think it's like, you don't want the injured worker being seen in the workplace.

We, you want them seeing doing like really bad jobs, like cleaning the bathroom or something like that. That's not true. What you want is to actually show. All your other employees that when you are injured, we've got your back. We're sorry, you were injured, but we're going to take care of you as long as it is an honest injury right now.

Seriously, I can literally go on for about forever. So much so that I'm actually going to list this as a YouTube video topic, because I just love talking about light duty and there are so many ways that you can approach it. When you attend one of my master classes, where I am

[00:14:00] telling you about safety management academy. I offer a bonus where if you sign up for safety management academy within like 24 hours, you get my B that is called how to prevent incident escalations. And I am just really, really into making sure that when injuries happen, that we truly care for the employee and that we watch out for the company's liability at the same time.

And light duty is one of those things it's not in that guide. That guide actually goes over accident, response procedures. It's really, really good. So if you're going to sign up for safety management academy, make sure that you sign up during a masterclass. So that way you get that guide. So that is all that I have for you today, just to keep this one nice and short and sweet.

But if you are listening today and you were thinking all along going J H What? You know, SOP, what are you talking about? Writing a policy? I have no idea how to do that. Then

[00:15:00] you have got to go check out safety management academy. It is my online safety management implementation program that will actually teach you how to do all the things in safety, like creating a JJ or an SOP or writing simple policies or building positive relationships with your employee to reduce this legal action and to get them involved in your program.

So if you want to learn more. You can go to safety management Enrollment is open. And like I said, if you sign up for the masterclass, you can get that extra little freebie. If you sign up within 24 hours of the masterclass. Alrighty, my safety friends. That is what I have for you today. I will talk to you again next week and you have a safe and amazing day bye for now.

You can check out the show notes and links for this week's episode at

[00:16:00] If you liked this podcast, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app. There are occasional bonus episodes that I don't always advertise, and you won't want to miss them one more favor, leave a review on that app.

It helps others find the show. Thanks. I really appreciate it. And I can't wait to talk to you next week.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • What is Light Duty or Return to Work Program
  • How Important to Make a Good Plan About This Program
  • 5 Essential Things That You Want to Include in Your Program
  • Understanding about The Restrictions of Employees in This Program

Links Mentioned:


I offer a bonus where if you enroll in Safety Management Academy from this masterclass, you can get my guide on how to prevent incident escalations. And I am just really into making sure that when injuries happen, that we truly care for the employee and that we watch out for the company’s liability at the same time. Make sure to sign up on the link that I mentioned.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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