Work Restrictions, Work Limitations and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Why are Work Restrictions Important?

In the past, California Workers’ Compensation Law was based upon work restrictions and limitations as the basis for permanent disability. In 2004, California Workers’ Compensation Law went away from work restrictions and adopted the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (5th Edition) to establish a percentage of impairment. This percentage of impairment is then then placed in a formula to calculate a Permanent Disability Percentage. In sum, impairment is now used to assess Permanent Disability rather than Work Restrictions.

Work Restrictions, however, remain an important medical-legal assessment within workers’ compensation law. An Injured Worker should be very concerned over any work restrictions or limitations that are placed upon them. Work Restrictions and Limitations can impact a wide variety of rights and benefits within workers’ compensation. Further, Work Restrictions can have implications with respect to benefits and rights outside of workers’ compensation law.

What are Work Restrictions?

Per the 1997 Schedule for Rating Permanent Disabilities, one’s work capacity disability may be expressed in terms of limitations on work activities. Generally, with respect to the injured body part, it is the expression on the diminished capacity of the part to perform various functions. To some extent, the Work Restriction reflects the comparison of the injured employee’s ability to perform work activities post-injury with his/her ability to perform the activities pre-injury. Other times, the restriction may be more definitive and lay out and specific weight limitation.

work restrictions, limitations, and workers comp in california

Is there a difference between Actual and Prophylactic Restrictions?

Medical Practitioners frequently express limitations in two forms. They provide actual or prophylactic limitations.

An actual work restriction/disability can be described as the (1) actual incapacity to perform the tasks usually encountered in one’s employment and the wage loss resulting therefrom, and (2) physical impairment of the body. See Franklin vs. WCAB 43 C.C.C. 310, 1978 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 3109

A prophylactic work restriction is one which limits the employee’s work capacity to avoid further injury. Adams v. WCAB (1971) 22 Cal. App. 3d 214, 218 [36 Cal. Comp. Cases 784, 99 Cal. Rptr. 269]

How Do Work Restrictions Impact my Workers’ Compensation Case?

While Work Restrictions may not directly impact one’s partial permanent disability percentage, Work Restrictions can have an impact temporary disability periods. Work Restrictions can establish a parameter for an Employer for offering alternative/modified work. Additionally, Work Restrictions, in part, can trigger entitlement to a supplemental job displacement benefit. Work restrictions, if they are significant, can trigger a claim of permanent total disability. In those circumstances, a vocational expert would have to analyze the restrictions to determine if the individual is unable to compete in the open labor market.

What are Common Work Restrictions?

Restrictions can take place in many forms. There are physical work restrictions, emotional work restrictions and atmospheric limitations.

Physical Work Restrictions are those that limit one’s ability to perform physical work. Atmospheric Work Restrictions relate to one’s ability to interact with their work surrounding and exposures. Emotional restrictions deal with the environment as well.

The follow are examples of Physical Work Restrictions and their definitions:

  • Very Heavy Lifting: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 25% of pre-injury capacity for lifting. (A statement “inability to lift 50 pounds” is not meaningful. The total lifting effort, including weight, distance, endurance, frequency, body position and similar factors should be considered with reference to the particular individual.).
  • Very Heavy Work: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 25% of pre-injury capacity for performing such activities as bending, stooping, lifting, pushing, pulling and climbing or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • Preclusion from Repetitive Motions of Neck or Back: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 50% of pre-injury capacity for flexing, extending, bending, and rotating neck or back. A Work Restriction Precluding Heavy Lifting contemplates the individual has lost approximately 50% of pre-injury capacity for lifting.
  • Heavy Lifting and Repeated Bending and Stooping: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 50% of pre-injury capacity for lifting, bending and stooping.
  • Heavy Work: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 50% of pre-injury capacity for performing such activities as bending, stooping, lifting, pushing, pulling, and climbing or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • No Substantial Work: contemplates the individual has lost approximately 75% of pre-injury capacity for performing such activities as bending, stooping, lifting, pushing, pulling, and climbing or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • Light Work: contemplates the individual can do work in a standing or walking position, with a minimum of demands for physical effort.
  • Semi-sedentary Work: contemplates the individual can do work approximately 50% of the time in a sitting position, and approximately 50% of the time in a standing or walking position, with a minimum of demands for physical effort whether standing, walking or sitting.
  • Limitation to Sedentary Work: contemplates the individual can do work predominantly in a sitting position at a bench, desk or table with a minimum of demands for physical effort and with some degree of walking and standing being permitted.
  • Precluding Squatting and/or Kneeling: contemplates loss of approximately 90-100% of worker’s pre-injury capacity for squatting and/or kneeling.
  • Precluding Climbing: contemplates loss of approximately 90-100% of worker’s pre-injury capacity for climbing.
  • Precluding Walking Over Uneven Ground: contemplates loss of approximately 90-100% of worker’s pre-injury capacity for walking over rough terrain.
  • Precluding Climbing, Walking Over Uneven Ground, Squatting, Kneeling, Crouching, Crawling, and Pivoting, or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • Precluding Prolonged Weight-Bearing: contemplates ability to do work approximately 75% of time in standing and walking position, and requires sitting approximately 25% of time.
  • Heavy Lifting, and Precluding Climbing, Walking Over Uneven Ground, Squatting, Kneeling, Crouching, Crawling, and Pivoting, or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • Heavy Lifting, Prolonged Weight-Bearing, and Precluding Climbing, Walking Over Uneven Ground, Squatting, Kneeling, Crouching, Crawling, and Pivoting or other activities involving comparable physical effort.
  • Weight-bearing to Half Time: contemplates ability to do work approximately 50% of time in standing and walking position, and requires sitting approximately 50% of time.
  • Sedentary Work: contemplates ability to do work predominantly in a sitting position at a bench, desk or table with a minimum of demands for physical effort and with some degree of standing and walking being permitted.

Examples of Emotional Restrictions are as follows:

A preclusion from working in emotionally stressful environments: This generally is not and should not be considered the absence of all stress. This disability contemplates the individual must avoid contacts with the public or fellow workers, or work environments, that produce situations that would give rise to nervousness, irritability and tension – such as, but not limited to: 1) working under close deadlines, 2) dealing with contentious, unreasonable or otherwise exasperating members of the public, 3) work that requires precision and attention to detail under distracting conditions Schedule at P. 2-12

Also, other stress work limitations are “no emotional stress” and “no undue emotional stress.”

Examples of Atmospheric Restrictions are as follows:

Preclusion from Outside Work: per the 1997 Schedule, this restriction “contemplates the individual must perform work predominantly indoors, permitting some exposure to sunlight.” Schedule at P. 2-6.

Preclusion from Wet Work: per the 1997 Schedule, this restriction contemplates the individual must avoid more than incidental contact with water, and/or other liquids. Schedule at P. 2-6.

Preclusion from Exposure to Dust and Fumes, 1997 Schedule at P. 2-12

Other limitations that are not within the schedule concern preclusions from working with latex, working with nickel, working in refrigerated units, working in heated environments.

Can Work Restrictions impact my receipt of a Job Voucher?

Yes. Workers’ Compensation has a supplemental job displacement benefit Labor Code Section 4658.7, provides that “[i]f the injury causes permanent partial disability, the injured employee shall be entitled to a supplemental job displacement benefit as provided in this section unless the employer makes an offer of regular, modified, or alternative work.” Work Restrictions impacts the employer’s ability to offer work.

Can Work Restrictions Change?

Many times, when an Injured Worker is recovering from their injury, they may be provided temporary work restrictions. These restrictions can determine whether modified work can be provided. As an injured work recovers over time, the restrictions may be lessened. If an injured worker has an exacerbation of their injuries, the work restrictions may be increased.

Are there matters beyond my Workers’ Compensation case for which Work Restriction and Limitations are important?

Yes. Work Restrictions can be helpful in obtaining Social Security Disability. Work Restrictions can be a basis for establishing a governmental pension disability retirement. These pensions, for example, can be through the following pension systems such as CALPERS, LACERA, KCERA, OCERS, or CalSTRS. Work Restrictions can be a basis to make a claim for short-term or long-term disability policies. Work Restrictions can be a basis for addressing issues such as reasonable accommodation within the American with Disabilities Act (ADA.)

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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