This question came in from a client who subscribes to my HR HelpLine. Here’s the question and my advice:
Client Question: As part of our workers’ compensation program, we bring injured employees back to work on light duty. We now have an employee who was injured outside the workplace. Do we have to provide light duty to him too?
Answer: It depends on the circumstances. Many employers are reluctant to bring injured employees back who were hurt off the job because they fear if the employee aggravates the injury while on light duty at work, it may become a workers’ comp case. As a result, many employers put policies in place limiting light duty jobs to individuals with work related injuries or illnesses only.
However, and this is where it gets tricky, if the injury or illness meets the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a light duty position is open and available, under the ADA, you would be required to consider reassigning that employee to the light duty position as a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC guidance states: 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
If the injury does not fall under the ADA definition and if the employer does not fall under ADA guidelines, then you would not be required to offer light duty.
Modify your polices and practices to comply with the requirements. Studies also show that employees heal faster while on light duty.
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