Railroads often times will want a railroader to return to work on "light duty" after an on-duty injury. The railroads’ use of the term “light duty” implies that the employee can return to work, as long as certain restrictions are in place in regard to what the employee does in the workplace.
In truth, there is no such thing as light duty when you work for the railroad. The main reason that the railroad allows an employee to return to a so-called light duty assignment is to avoid having to report fully all employee injury lost wage days to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Under FRA rules, lost wage days from employee injuries have to be reported by the railroad periodically and failure to do so subjects the railroad to potential fines. By having an employee work "light duty" the railroad can under report lost wage days and make itself look good to the federal government.
Additionally, by returning to light duty, the railroad tries to make the railroader feel indebted to the company while easily keeping tabs on his medical condition. Down the road, the railroad will be in position to hold over the head of the injured railroader the implication that by returning to work he wasn’t really that hurt in the first place. Time and again during settlement negotiations as well as in court, I have heard the claim agent say, “After all, he DID return to work.” Jurors, too, have been known to associate working light duty with "not being so injured" and returned lower awards based on that.
Since in reality there are no light duty jobs on the railroad, light duty assignments run from the ridiculous to the downright dangerous. On the ridiculous side, one railroader recently told us that when he returned to work on light duty the railroad had him literally counting paperclips in the yard office. On the dangerous side, another railroader told us he returned with certain restrictions, which gradually eroded to where he was swinging a sledgehammer and greatly increasing the risk of re-injury. The dangerous side is more typical.
As we've stated in previous Straight Track editions (see Straight Track - Railroad Doctor Best Friend), it's important that you provide your doctors with a copy of your job description so they can accurately decide what work duties – if any – you are capable of performing. If your doctor says you cannot work your regular job, he decided this for a good reason. Your supervisors are not doctors. They can easily and subtly change working conditions to your detriment. In one case, the railroad was so bold it had the injured railroader move filing cabinets around the yard office! The man re-injured his shoulder and the railroad blamed him for not making his supervisor stick to his doctor's restrictions.
The railroad is not doing you or any other injured railroaders any favors by offering "light duty". The railroad’s use of light duty is nothing more than a grave injustice to all railroaders. By covering up the reality of the safety track record on their lines and under reporting it from the government, dangerous practices and defective equipment are not being properly investigated. The FRA is not given a true picture of a railroad's safety.
By avoiding light duty, railroaders can protect the future security of themselves and their families, and take an affirmative step toward increasing the safety level for their fellow – and future - railroad union brothers.
If you are ever in the position where you have to consider whether or not to accept a light duty assignment, first weigh all the issues carefully - health, safety, monies, etc., and speak with Hoey & Farina, your railroad union designated legal counsel, for free legal advice. If you return to work on light duty, remember to keep it light duty and limit your work according to your doctor’s restrictions.