A railroad may offer a worker light duty as soon as an injury occurs at work. By keeping the employee on the payroll, the railroad avoids the need to report a lost time incident to the Federal Railroad Administration. This practice can be very dangerous for the injured employee.
I handled a recent case where a trackman injured his back at work because of the negligence of his co-employee. He immediately reported the incident to his supervisor. His supervisor told him he could sit in the truck and rest for the remainder of the shift. When the employee reported to work the next day with ongoing pain, the supervisor again told him he could rest and avoid any lifting. “Let’s not make a big deal out of this if we don’t have to,” the supervisor warned. This process went on for over a week. Finally, when his injury started to get worse, the employee went to his family doctor and called off work. When the employee tried to fill out an incident report, the railroad refuted his original version of how the accident happened, and threatened the employee with discipline for failing to immediately fill out the report. Since he continued to show up to work for limited duty, and did not get immediate legal advice, the employee’s right to compensation under the FELA was jeopardized and he was facing discipline.
Injured employees have very little to gain and a lot to lose by working a light duty assignment. The best practice is to stay out of work until you are fully healed and your doctor recommends a return to your regular job.