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Consistency Erases Risk of Light-Duty Jobs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Employers who use light-duty programs to cut workers’ compensation costs often make one big legal mistake: They apply their policies haphazardly, allowing some employees to take light-duty jobs, but not others. That inconsistency is the fastest way to trigger discrimination lawsuits from employees who are turned down for those less strenuous jobs (answering phones, filing, entering orders, etc.).

One key trap: If you allow some employees with non-work-related injuries to return to light duty, you’ll have to allow pregnant women a crack at those positions, too. That’s because the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy. The following case shows why reserving light-duty jobs for workers’ comp cases may be the smartest legal move.

Recent case: Three months into her job as a truck driver for Swift Transportation, Amanda Reeves got pregnant. Her doctor restricted her from lifting. Because Reeves’ job required heavy lifting, the company sent her home and eventually fired her because it had no work for her. (She didn’t qualify for FMLA leave.)

Reeves had demanded one of the light-duty jobs reserved for employees on workers’ comp, but the company refused. She shot off a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. The court tossed out her case.

Reason: The company’s light-duty policy was “indisputably pregnancy-blind” and applied consistently. Only employees on workers’ comp could use the policy, and Reeves couldn’t show that any other employee who suffered an off-the-job injury or condition was offered light-duty work. Granting Reeves the light-duty job would, the court said, “afford pregnant women more benefits and better treatment than other employees, instead of the equal benefits and same treatment intended by the Act.” (Reeves v. Swift Transportation, No. 05-5271, 6th Cir., 2006) 

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