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Don’t be bullied to create permanent light-duty job

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

After injuring her shoulder, assembly-line worker Tamara Watson wasn't able to do many tasks required for her job. To aid her recovery, the company temporarily limited her to lighter duties that she could handle.

But when Watson's doctor said she was permanently unable to work on the line, the company terminated her, saying that no manual jobs were available for someone with her restrictions.

Watson sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), arguing that the company should have let her hold the "light duty" job on a permanent basis.A district court said Watson had no case and an appeals court agreed. Reason: Forcing the company to turn a temporary light-duty position into a permanent one would require creating an entirely new job, which isn't mandated by the ADA. Watson's request also wasn't reasonable because letting her take a light-duty job full time would limit the company's ability to accommodate other recovering employees with temporary light-duty jobs. (Watson v. Lithonia Lighting and National Service Industries Inc., No. 02-1423, 7th Cir., 2002)

Advice: If you don't have a permanent light-duty position, don't be bullied by a disabled worker into creating one as an accommodation. The ADA doesn't require it.

Employers often set aside a pool of positions for employees who are recovering from work-related injuries. In this case, the company's practice of rotating assembly line workers through various positions served a business purpose by cutting the risk of repetitive injuries.

If a worker reaches a level of recovery that has run its course, permanent assignment to a lesser job isn't required if the worker can't perform one of the company's "regular" jobs, with or without accommodation.

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