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HR Solutions

Get rid of "light duty"!

03/28/06

As if employers needed reminding, another court, this time in California, held recently that the ADA does not require an organization to provide "light duty."   Notably this court dealt with an employer that offered it as a practice  (the plaintiff was on light duty for YEARS), and the way the law works, the government

entity that employed the plaintiff would have been even better off it had not provided this benefit in the first place. 

 

The EEOC has maintained that you take on the duty to accommodate with light duty if you have provided it in the past.  So why expand your duty to accommodate? 

 

Here is an excerpt from the EEOC "guidance" explaining its take on the ADA and workers compensation laws.  This text addresses the topic at hand:

 

"LIGHT DUTY

The term "light duty" has a number of different meanings in the employment setting. 

Generally, "light duty" refers to temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less
demanding than normal job duties.  Some employers use the term "light duty" to mean simply excusing an employee from performing those job functions that s/he is unable to perform because of an impairment.  "Light duty" also may consist of particular positions with duties that are less physically or mentally
demanding created specifically for the purpose of providing alternative work for employees who are unable to perform some or all of their normal duties.  Further, an employer may refer to
any position that is sedentary or is less physically or mentally demanding as "light duty."
 

In the following questions and answers, the term "light duty" refers only to particular positions created specifically for the purpose of providing work for employees who are unable to perform some or all of their normal duties.


27. Does the ADA prohibit an employer from creating a light duty position for an employee when s/he is injured on the job?

No, in most instances.  An employer may recognize a special obligation arising out of the employment relationship to create a light duty position for an employee when s/he has been
injured while performing work for the employer and, as a consequence, is unable to perform his/her regular job duties.  Such a policy, on its face, does not treat an individual with a disability less favorably than an individual without a disability; nor does it screen out an individual on the basis of disability....

Of course, an employer must apply its policy of creating a light duty position for an employee when s/he is
occupationally injured on a non-discriminatory basis.  In other words, an employer may not use disability as a reason to refuse to create a light duty position when an employee is occupationally injured.


An employer need not create a light duty position for a non-occupationally injured employee with a disability as a reasonable accommodation.  The principle that the ADA does not require employers to create positions as a form of reasonable accommodation applies equally to the creation of light duty
positions.  However, an employer must provide other forms of reasonable accommodation required under the ADA.  For example, subject to undue hardship, an employer must: (1) restructure a
position by redistributing marginal functions which an individual cannot perform because of a disability, (2) provide modified scheduling (including part time work), or (3) reassign a non-occupationally injured employee with a disability to an equivalent existing vacancy for which s/he is qualified.  Accordingly, an employer may not avoid its obligation to accommodate an individual with a disability simply by asserting
that the disability did not derive from an occupational injury.


In some cases, the only effective reasonable accommodation available for an individual with a disability may be similar or equivalent to a light duty position.  The employer would have to provide that reasonable accommodation unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship. 

Example: R creates light duty positions for employees when they are occupationally injured if they are unable to perform one or more of their regular job duties.  CP can no longer perform functions of her position because of a disability caused by an off-the-job accident.  She requests that R create a
light duty position for her as a reasonable accommodation.  R denies CP's request because she has not been injured on the job.  R has not violated the ADA.  However, R must provide another reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship.  If it is determined that the only effective accommodation is to
restructure CP's position by redistributing the marginal functions, and the restructured position resembles a light duty position, R must provide the reasonable accommodation unless it can prove that it imposes an undue hardship.


28.     If an employer reserves light duty positions for employees with occupational injuries, does the ADA require it to consider reassigning an employee with a disability who is not occupationally injured to such positions as a reasonable accommodation?

Yes....  If an employee with a disability who is not occupationally injured becomes unable to perform the essential functions of his/her job, and there is no other effective accommodation available, the employer must reassign him/her to a vacant reserved light duty position as a reasonable accommodation
if (1) s/he can perform its essential functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation; and (2) the reassignment would not impose an undue hardship.  This is because reassignment to a vacant position and appropriate modification of an employer's policy are forms of reasonable accommodation required by the ADA, absent undue hardship....  An employer cannot establish that the reassignment to a vacant reserved light duty position imposes an undue hardship simply by showing that it would have no other vacant light duty positions available if an employee became injured on the job and needed light duty.


Example: R has light duty positions which it reserves for employees in its manufacturing department when they are unable to perform their regular job duties because of on-the-job injuries.  CP, an assembly line worker, has multiple sclerosis (MS) which substantially limits a number of major life activities.  Eventually CP is unable to perform the essential functions of her position, with or without a reasonable accommodation, because of the MS.  As a reasonable accommodation, CP requests that she be reassigned to a vacant light duty position for which she is qualified.  R says that the vacant light duty position is reserved for employees who are injured on the job and refuses to reassign CP, although it would not impose an undue hardship to do so.  R has violated the ADA by refusing to reassign her to the vacant light duty position.


29.  If an employer has only temporary light duty positions, must it still provide a permanent light duty position for an employee with a disability-related occupational injury?

No.  The ADA typically does not limit an employer's ability to establish or change the content, nature, or functions of its positions.  So, for example, an employer is free to determine that a light duty position will be temporary rather than permanent... Thus, if an employer provides light duty positions only on a temporary basis, it need only provide a temporary light duty position for an employee with a disability-
related occupational injury."

 

Switch to modified duty or temporary duty "if available" and administer it

on a limited time basis.  And NEVER make work for someone who would be a

candidate for such work.  If it isn't there, don't create it.