Friday December 11, 2015
Probably, as a result of the Supreme Court's recent decision in
Young v. UPS.
Many employers have had a long-standing policy or practice of
providing temporary light duty only to employees who are returning
to work from an on-the-job injury. "Light duty" is typically a job
or project that is specially created to help an injured worker that
would otherwise not exist. Limiting these special assignments to
workers who get hurt at work makes sense. Employers feel an
obligation to their employees that get hurt at work, and employers
have a financial interest in these employees coming back to work as
soon as possible. Also, most employers have limited light duty
opportunities and, therefore, want to preserve them for employees
who are recovering from work-related accidents. Someone with a
condition unrelated to the job, such as injuries from a car
accident or pregnancy, does not get light duty under the typical
policy. If the employee with a non-occupational injury cannot do
the essential functions of the job, even with accommodation, he
must go on leave of absence.
That is what happened to the pregnant UPS driver in Young v. UPS.
Her doctor put her on a lifting restriction that prevented her from
lifting some UPS packages. Although it would have allowed someone
injured at work with the same lifting restriction to perform light
duty, Young had to go on unpaid leave and could not afford to keep
her health insurance.
Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court rejected both parties'
positions and created a new standard for judging the legality of
such policies. If a company's policy "significantly burdens"
pregnant workers (as most light duty policies do), the company must
advance "sufficiently strong" reasons to justify the burden. Cost
and inconvenience are not sufficient, the Court said. The Supreme
Court sent the case back to the lower court for further litigation
under this new standard. Given what the Court has required that it
prove, however, UPS is not likely to be able to successfully defend
Policies like UPS's, which are common, will now be very difficult,
if not impossible, to defend. Even if such a policy can be
successfully defended, an employer will spend a lot of money doing
it. In our opinion, an employer would have to have substantial
operational reasons, apart from cost and inconvenience, to limit
light duty opportunities to only those who have been hurt at work
and to the exclusion of pregnant workers. All employers should
review their policies and consult with counsel about the ability to
defend them after this important change in the law.
Click on the link to read the Young v. UPS U.S. Supreme Court