Return-to-Work Policy Challenged

By James Hatch

Feb. 9, 2007

Requiring a full medical release before allowing an employee to return to work may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That was the court’s decision in a lawsuit brought by Todd Wright against his former employer, Middle Tennessee Electrical Membership.

    Wright, who had suffered a serious work-related knee injury, alleged that the company failed to accommodate him and provide him with light duty work. His doctor had released him to work with restrictions, but the company’s policy precluded employees from returning to work until they had a full medical release. No offers of light duty employment were made by the company for two months, until Wright filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC.

    It was undisputed that the company would not consider an injured employee for any job until the employee had a full medical release. According to the court, requiring a full release from a medical doctor prior to returning to work might be tantamount to an impermissible “100 percent healed policy,” which violates ADA.

    In ordering a trial on Wright’s claims under the ADA, the court noted, “[w]hale an employer is not required to create a light duty position where none exists and the ADA permits job requirements that are job-related and consistent with business necessity, a ‘100 percent healed’ or ‘fully-healed’ policy is per se a violation of the ADA.” Todd Wright v. Middle Tenn. Elec. Membership Corp., No. 3:05-cv-00969 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 7, 2006)

    Impact: Employers are advised that when considering the return to work of employees on medical leaves of absences, reasonable accommodation may be required in the event the returning employee is unable to perform all of the job duties of their former position.

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