Permanent light duty is not an ADA accommodation. Unless you make it one.

Wooden file cabinet.JPGThe Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability, if doing so will allow that person to perform the essential functions of the job.

Temporary light duty? Yep, that’s a reasonable accommodation.

But, what about permanent light duty?

Last night, I was reading this opinion about a woman — oh, what was her name? — who was hurt on the job. After the plaintiff’s workplace injury, her employer placed her in a temporary light duty position. How do we know that it was temporary? Because the employer had a policy that “light duty” is a “temporary disability status,” and, light-duty positions are not available to employees on a permanent basis.

(If you’re reading this on the toilet, pull out your highlighter and mark up that last sentence. It’s important).

Well, yadda, yadda, yadda. The employee inflexibly insists upon indefinite/permanent light duty, and she gets fired.

Permanent light duty is not required.

For sure, indefinite accommodations are not reasonable. This is because the ADA covers people who can perform the essential functions of their jobs presently or in the immediate future.

But, what about that permanent light duty? Educate us, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals:

To the extent Plaintiff intended to request a permanent light-duty position, it is undisputed that no such position existed. SOP 213.00 provides that every HCSO employee is essential to its efficient operation, and that eligibility for light-duty status is thus limited to 270 days during a two-year period. Defendant was not required by the ADA to create a permanent light-duty position especially for Plaintiff. 

(Wash your hands and get out that highlighter again for the first sentence in the quoted passage above).

Employer Takeaways.

You see where I’m going with this? If you don’t want to be in a position of potentially having to provide permanent light duty…

  • Don’t create a permanent light-duty position
  • Make sure that your light-duty policy underscores that the position is temporary
  • While light-duty can be a good reasonable accommodation option, don’t limit yourself. As part of the ADA interactive process Undertaker undertaken with your employee, explore other possible reasonable accommodations.
Image Credit: By Pptudela at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14530617
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