Light Duty Restrictions for Nurses: Examples and FAQ

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Written by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Light duty restrictions for nurses include desk work, as seen in this picture.

While nurses are equipped to care for patients with various health conditions, they’re not invulnerable to experiencing illness or injury themselves. For healthcare facility leaders, scenarios like these can pose many challenges, especially if you’re already short-staffed. However, assigning light duty restrictions for nurses can be a great way to minimize staffing issues while supporting the safety and wellbeing of your nurses.

You may be wondering, what exactly does light duty mean and how is it applied in nursing? We’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions and walk through examples to help you create appropriate light duty assignments for your staff.

What Does Light Duty Mean for Nurses?

Light duty — also known as transitional or alternate duty — refers to modified job duties assigned to a nurse temporarily recovering from injury or illness. Light duties are less physically or mentally demanding than what’s typical for a job to enable a nurse to continue working.

Light duty work may entail reassigning a nurse to a new job placement that can be carried out within the limits of their condition. Other times, it can involve removing certain tasks that aren’t considered “essential” in a nurse’s current role. This can include modifications to:

  • Mobility/lifting
  • Patient load/contact
  • Shift hours
  • Care procedures

Are Facilities Required to Provide Light Duty Work?

In some scenarios, nurses may be entitled to ask their employers for light duty work as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But, in general, it’s not a legal requirement. Assigning light duties entails a collaborative, case-by-case discussion between a nurse and employer to provide modifications that are appropriate for both parties.

How Should Facilities Assign Light Duty Restrictions?

The exact way you should go about assigning light duty restrictions for nurses will depend on a nurse’s usual responsibilities and the capacities of your facility. However, you can keep the following tips in mind to help you adhere to best practices:

  • Create a clear process for employees who may need to request light duty work.
  • Assign light duties on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with a nurse.
  • Acquire all information needed to inform light duties (e.g., medical documentation).
  • Implement light duties on a temporary timeline that works for both parties.
  • Outline any modified tasks or new job descriptions in writing.
  • Avoid assigning light duties to nurses who don’t request or consent to them.

What Are the Benefits of Light Duty Restrictions?

Assigning light duty restrictions can benefit both nurses and the facilities they work in. Not only can this help build a healthy work culture, but it also minimizes any staffing issues that could impact care delivery. When carried out properly, light duty assignments can:

  • Enable earlier return to work for nurses on medical leave.
  • Lower workers compensation costs provided by facilities.
  • Reduce the risk for liabilities under the ADA.
  • Increase productivity and morale among staff.
  • Help reduce nurse turnover.

Light Duty Restrictions for Nurses: 5 Key Examples

To get a better idea of how facilities can assign light duties, we can take a look at the following examples of what light duty nursing jobs and restrictions can look like, along with situations that might warrant them.

Example 1: Pregnant Nurse

Scenario: A nurse in her third trimester of pregnancy is having trouble carrying out strenuous activity on the unit due to shortness of breath.

Light Duty: The nurse temporarily gets transferred to an administrative role to conduct chart audits, which doesn’t require much mobility.

Example 2: Immunocompromising Conditions

Scenario: A nurse who recently recovered from cancer is transitioning back to work, but has a compromised immune system from chemotherapy.

Light Duty: Since the nurse is more vulnerable to illness, she isn’t assigned to any patients who have contagious conditions like tuberculosis.

Example 3: Symptom Flare-Ups

Scenario: A nurse returns to work after a back injury but still feels pain flare-ups when he doesn’t get proper rest, especially at night.

Light Duty: The nurse is temporarily moved from fluctuating day and night shift placement to only day shifts in order to support a more regular sleep schedule and prevent night flare-ups.

Example 4: Surgery Recovery

Scenario: A nurse recovering from back surgery is cleared by his doctor to return to work under a light duty note that specifies no heavy lifting.

Light Duty: The nurse is restricted from lifting patients who need to be transferred, and any tasks requiring lifting are temporarily reassigned to a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

Example 5: Medication Side Effects

Scenario: A nurse recovering from a recent injury is taking prescribed pain medication that can sometimes cause nausea and vomiting.

Light Duty: The nurse is assigned to patients who require less intensive care, such as monitoring or discharge education, to allow for more flexibility and frequent restroom breaks during their shifts.

Looking For More Ways To Support Your Staff?

Now that you understand how to assign light duty restrictions for nurses, you may be seeking more resources to help your staff thrive. Sign up for IntelyCare’s free newsletter today and stay in the loop of the latest healthcare insights on building a healthier workforce.