How Long Can You Be on Light Duties at Work


Being able to return to work after you have sustained an injury has both physical and mental benefits. However, sometimes your injuries might mean you cannot return to your normal duties straight away. In some circumstances, your employer and WorkCover will try to find other work for you by developing a suitable (“light”) duties program for you. Several factors play a role in the duration of your light duties program, and the content of your light duties. 

Suitable (“light”) duties are defined in the Workers Compensation Act 2003 (Qld) as being work duties for which the worker is suited, having regard to the nature of the workers’ incapacity, the pre-injury employment, relevant medical information, your rehabilitation and return to work plan, the provisions of your employer’s workplace rehabilitation policy and procedures, your age, education, skills, and work experience, and whether it is reasonable to expect you to attend a different location to carry out the suitable duties. 

Other relevant matters may also be considered, and the duration of your suitable duties will also depend on:   

  • Severity of Injury: The nature and intensity of your work-related injury or illness will heavily influence how long you might need modified work tasks to assist your recovery.
  • Recovery Progress: WorkCover monitors your progress through regular assessments by your treating doctor, as well as assessments by a doctor appointed by WorkCover, in certain circumstances. If you recover smoothly, your doctor could clear you to resume normal duties faster.
  • Workplace Availability: Some workplaces have more flexible options for light duties than others due to the type of work performed. Your ability to continue carrying out duties for your employer while on light work, and the type of light duties available will affect the duration of your suitable duties program.
  • Statutory Limits: In most cases, the maximum amount of time you can continue to receive Workers’ compensation benefits is 5 years. 

Your employer has an obligation to provide you with rehabilitation (which includes suitable duties programs) during your claim. If an employer considers it is not practicable to provide the worker with suitable duties programs, the employer must give the insurer (WorkCover) written evidence that it is not practicable. WorkCover also has a duty to take all reasonable steps to secure the rehabilitation and early return to suitable duties of workers who have an entitlement to compensation. 

You also have a duty to mitigate your loss during your Workcover claim, including that you must participate in any return to work program or suitable duties arranged by WorkCover/your employer. 

What Are Light Duties?

Suitable (“Light”) duties involve temporary, modified work assignments designed to facilitate your return to the workplace while safely accommodating any lingering restrictions from your injury. 

Examples include:

  • Reduced Hours: Shorter shifts or lighter workloads per day.
  • Modified Tasks: Avoiding heavy lifting, repetitive motions, or other movements which hinder your healing.
  • Administrative Duties: Paperwork, answering phones, or other tasks if your injury prevents your normal physical activities.

Host Employment: Your Alternatives

If your regular employer cannot provide suitable light duties, options are explored including:

  • Host Employment: WorkCover or a rehabilitation specialist might arrange temporary employment with another company that has roles within your limitations. Your benefits typically continue.
  • Retraining: In some cases, WorkCover might approve funding for you to acquire new skills to transition to a suitable role if fully returning to your old job is unlikely.

Why Light Duties Matter

Participating in light duties, once medically cleared, promotes recovery, maintains income, and shows ongoing commitment to your job. However, it's crucial that such modified work does not worsen your condition. Maintaining regular communication with your doctor during your claims process and as you return to light duties is crucial.

The Importance of Advocacy

While light duties should align with your abilities, sometimes there are disputes. Seeking advice from a personal injury lawyer specialising in WorkCover matters can provide guidance:

  • Protecting Your Rights: A lawyer can clarify if and for how long your employer is obligated to provide suitable duties.
  • Challenging Limitations: Your lawyer can assist if the light duties offered are overly restrictive or don't seem to match your cleared work capacity.

Seek Further Information

  • Get Expert Legal Advice: Smith’s Lawyers are expert personal injury lawyers and run all claims on a risk-free No Win, No Fee, No Catch® promise which guarantees you won't pay any upfront legal fees unless your claim is successful.
Last updated:
May 20, 2024

Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For help understanding your rights, please call 1800 960 482 or request a free case review to talk to one of our lawyers today.

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