542 Limited Duty, Light Duty, Rehabilitation Assignments, and the Rehabilitation Act

542.1 Overview

The terms “limited duty,” “light duty,” and “rehabilitation assignment” have very specific and different meanings within the Postal Service. Yet the obligations imposed upon the Postal Service may overlap with or parallel its obligations under workers’ compensation laws or a collective bargaining agreement.

542.2 Reasonable Accommodation for an Employee With an Occupational Illness or Injury Which Is Also a Disability Under the Rehabilitation Act

The purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to do the following:

The purpose of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) is to provide a system for securing prompt and fair resolution of federal employees’ claims against employers for occupational illness or injury. While the purpose of these laws does not conflict, the simultaneous application of the laws raises questions in a number of areas.

An employee who has sustained an occupational illness or injury and has an accepted claim under FECA can, but does not necessarily, have a disability within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. This is because FECA is different in purpose than the Rehabilitation Act and uses different standards for evaluating whether a person has a “disability” or whether the employee is capable of working.

Remember, the Rehabilitation Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. However, impairments resulting from an occupational illness or injury may not substantially limit a major life activity, or they may last only a short time, such as a few weeks with little or no impact.

If an employee with an occupational illness or injury requests reasonable accommodation and the need for accommodation is not obvious or already known, the employer may require documentation to substantiate the following:

If the impairment resulting from the occupational illness or injury substantially limits a major life activity, assess whether the employee can perform the essential functions of a position, with or without accommodations, and without posing a direct threat. The fact that an employee has a substantially limiting impairment caused by the occupational illness or injury does not, by itself, indicate that he or she is unable to perform the essential functions of the job or that returning the employee poses a direct threat. You must go through the following steps:

Reasonable accommodation may include restructuring a position by reallocating or redistributing the marginal functions that the employee cannot perform because of an impairment resulting from a traumatic injury or occupational illness. However, the Postal Service need not eliminate essential functions of the position.

542.3 Reasonable Accommodation for An Employee Who Requests Light Duty

The term “light duty” is a contractual term. It refers to temporary work assignments — not positions — requested by eligible employees who have impairments from non-job-related medical conditions. Article 13 of most collective bargaining agreements governs light duty and provides for the assignment of work, if available, to an employee unable to perform his or her regular duties. Therefore, the installation head (or appropriate designee) handles light duty requests pursuant to the terms of the relevant contract, rather than by the RAC or reasonable accommodation decision maker. However, even though a request for light duty usually implies a request to be relieved of essential functions of the employee’s regular position, it is important to recognize that an employee with a disability under the Rehabilitation Act may request light duty for the following reasons:

In such instances, the RAC or reasonable accommodation decision maker is the appropriate party to explore accommodation with the employee.

Keep in mind, like FECA and the Rehabilitation Act for individuals with job-related illness or injuries, light duty under Article 13 and a reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act are separate rights, although they are often sought and considered simultaneously.