The Eleventh Circuit confirmed that indefinite light duty is not a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and employers are not required to create a permanent light-duty position for an employee.
In Frazier-White v. Gee, the plaintiff suffered an on-the-job injury while performing security-related duties for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HSCO). After returning to work, Frazier-White was placed in a temporary assignment on light-duty status. HSCO’s policy allowed for 270 days of light-duty status. The plaintiff remained on light-duty status for ten months.
At her due process hearing, Frazier-White proposed two accommodations: “(1) an indefinite extension of her light-duty status, and (2) reassignment to some other, unspecified position.” HSCO ultimately terminated plaintiff because she had a “demonstrated physical impairment, with or without reasonable accommodations, that prevents [her] from performing the essential functions of [her] position.”
The Eleventh Circuit found the employer did not discriminate against plaintiff because the proposed accommodations were not reasonable. In coming to its conclusion, the court relied upon the employer’s light-duty policy – limited to 270 days – and acknowledged that no permanent light-duty position existed at the HSCO.
In order to combat claims like this, employers should have an up-to-date, established policy on temporary light-duty positions that can be referred to in response to similar claims. Further, employers should be careful not to create permanent light-duty positions, intentionally or inadvertently, otherwise transfer to such a position could be considered a reasonable accommodation.