Can You Get Laid Off While On Light Duty

When you get injured at work, the systems in place seem pretty clear-cut. But what if something happens outside of work and you can’t do your normal job? Have you wondered, “can I be fired for work restrictions?”

As a general rule, if an employee is injured outside of work and requests work restrictions the are “unreasonable” for the employee’s position and alternate positions are not available, the employer may cut hours or terminate the employee.

But, Federal law requires that an employer provide reasonable accommodation to an injured employee even when injured outside the workplace.

It’s also vital to note that in at-will states, an employment contract can be terminated for any reason.

The law expects that the employer would make some accommodations so that the employee can continue working in some capacity. It could be reduced by offering reduced hours or redeployment to a section where work is lighter.

The truth is that in some cases, this is impractical or unfeasible, and the employer could decide to give the employee the pink slip.

In this article, we’ll explore the implications of an injured worker having work restrictions, being on light duty, whether an employer can refuse reasonable adjustments, and similar themes around what happens after one is injured and how one’s employment is impacted.

Whether or not your employer can terminate you for going on light duty at work will depend on the circumstances. Many employers might offer accommodations in your current job while others might offer light or modified duty in a different position instead.

Can the Medical Leave Act prevent an employer from firing an injured worker?

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.

It allows “eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.” (source)

Of the list of eligible reasons, the one that relates to an outside of work injury is: “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job”.

Now it’s important to note that the law says “health condition” and not “injury”.

Still an employer may grant it, even if it’s not exactly a medical condition. The leave allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. At the end of those 12 weeks, you would have to return to work or be fired unless other additional leave options are available.

But it’s also important to point out that not every employer is a “covered employer”.

Those specific reasons are:

  • The employer has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius
  • You have to have worked for the employer at least 12 months (so if it’s a new job, you aren’t covered)
  • You have to have worked at least 1250 hours in those 12 months
  • When in doubt, talk to the HR department at your place of employment.

    Can I be fired while on workers’ compensation?

    One can be fired while on workers’ compensation. However, it cannot be related to the workers’ compensation claim. The employer would have to prove the termination was due to poor work performance or a policy violation unrelated to the injury.

    And, in “at-will” states, one’s employment can be terminated for any reason. But when in doubt about your workers’ compensation benefits, always consult a workers’ compensation attorney.

    Consider that the following are valid reasons why you could get the pink slip even while your worker’s comp claim is on.

  • Poor work performance
  • Company financial problems
  • Company restructuring
  • Any other legal reason
  • So, while an employer can’t terminate your employment because you made a workers compensation claim, they can terminate your employment during your worker’s compensation claim.

    Just as you can decide to resign from your job at any time and for any reason. In “at-will” states, the employer can also terminate your employment for any legal reason or no reason at all.

    So, can an employee with a bad attitude be fired?

    In a recent article, I explained that they can, and I outlined exactly how employers do it and what red flags they look for.

    Just click the link to read it on my site.

    Can an employer refuse reasonable adjustments?

    An employer can refuse reasonable adjustments or accommodations. The law expects them to make reasonable adjustments. However, they are not bound to that if they can show that such adjustments could adversely impact the business.

    What seems reasonable to an employee may not be so to an employee. What is reasonable is a function of several factors. It is not as straightforward as it seems.

    There is a concept of undue hardship which employers may invoke to back up their refusal to make reasonable adjustments.

    It covers financial difficulty and even reasonable accommodations that are deemed extensive, disruptive, and substantial and can alter the nature of the operation of the business.

    So, while the law expects employers to make reasonable adjustments, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not require them to make adjustments that would impose an undue hardship on them.

    The Act uses the following criteria in determining what accommodation constitutes undue hardship:

  • Nature and net cost of the accommodation.
  • The overall financial resources of the employer.
  • The number of employees employed by the employer.
  • The number, type, and location of the employer’s facilities.
  • The employer’s operation, including:
  • composition, structure, and functions of the workforce; and geographic separateness and administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility where the accommodation will be provided.

    If the employer opts to terminate employment due to the restrictions, the employee can file for unemployment, although that is not guaranteed.

  • the financial resources of the facility;
  • the number of employees at the facility; and
  • the effect of the accommodation on expenses and resources of the facility.
  • Can I Get Fired on Workers’ Compensation Light Duty?


    What does light duty mean at work?

    Generally, “light duty” refers to temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less demanding than normal job duties (EEOC, 1996).

    What is the difference between light duty and modified duty?

    Modified work – Work in which obstacles that may keep you from performing your essential job functions are adapted, altered or removed. Light duty work – Work in which the job is executed at reduced physical levels. Tasks can be temporary or permanent.

    What does light duty mean from a doctor?

    Light-duty jobs are those your doctor says you are able to perform even with your medical restrictions. So-called light-duty jobs may consist of: Shorter shifts. Tasks that involve less physical labor. Work that allows an employee to move at a slower pace.

    Can you get laid off for performance?

    An employee can be fired for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most common reason for being terminated for cause is an unsatisfactory performance on the job.

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