Making Modified Duty Work for Your Employee

March 27, 2023 • Missouri Employers Mutual

If an employee is injured at work, your first priority will be to get them back to their best. But did you know that returning to work can actually help your employee’s quality of life in the long-term? 

Studies show that employees who miss work for six months because of a job-related injury have only a 50 percent chance of ever returning to work. 

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. It’s crucial to respect those restrictions. That’s where transitional duty (or light duty) comes in. 

“Sometimes, employers do not know where to start in terms of what they can have an employee do on the job,” said MEM Return to Work Coordinator and Nurse Melissa Strodtman. “From a nursing standpoint, we want the injured worker up and active.” 

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, recover faster – and it helps you control claim costs. 

For the employee, there are benefits, too: putting an injured worker on light duty allows them to move from a temporary total disability status back to their employer’s payroll. There won’t be a need to hire a new employee. Other employees won’t have to fill the empty position. The injured worker receives a paycheck rather than disability pay and keeps up their work routine. 

Modified duty misconceptions 

Employers often have misconceptions about what light duty, otherwise known as modified duty, can be. 

Often, I hear from employers that they think the employee has to perform their ‘normal job,’” Strodtman said. “They don’t. They could be doing something completely different.” 

Different could mean volunteering for a nonprofit through MEM’s partnership with Paradigm. MEM works with the policyholder to identify the right fit between an injured worker and a nonprofit based on location and work restrictions. The policyholder pays the injured worker at least minimum wage while working at the nonprofit. If this wage is less than the injured worker’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. 

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. 

Teamwork: Tailoring the light duty plan to the employee

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 injured worker what duties they could perform? 
  • Can the injured worker perform work across departments? 
  • Did the supervisor provide input? 

More ideas for transitional duty work 

A return to work plan with transitional duties benefits the recovering employee and the employer. By helping the injured worker return sooner, you can avoid turnover and temporary employee 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 injured worker in a quick and thorough recovery. 

Want more information about a Return to Work program? Check out this sampleTransitional Duty Policy or email us at

March 27, 2023
Missouri Employers Mutual
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