Cuiellette v. City of Los Angeles (April 22, 2011) cautions employers that when an employee has been rated as 100% disabled for workers’ compensation purposes, the employer is not relieved of its duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Practically speaking, a workers’ compensation rating, even as high as 100% disabled, does not mean that the employee cannot be a qualified individual entitled to an individualized assessment of his or her disability through an interactive process and a reasonable accommodation.
Cuiellette also serves as a reminder that when an employer has a policy of offering employees permanent “light-duty” positions as an accommodation, the relevant inquiry to determine whether the employee is a qualified individual is whether they are able to perform the essential functions of the position to which they are, or would be reassigned, not whether they are able to perform the essential duties of the original position. Cuiellette was a Los Angeles peace officer who suffered an injury and was placed on disability leave. He was designated 100% disabled as part of his workers’ compensation proceedings. After being out for an extended leave, Cuiellette asked to return to work and was released to return to work by his treating physician with the general restriction: “permanent light-duty – administrative work only.” Upon his return to work, the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) assigned Cuiellette to one of its 250 permanent light-duty desk positions reserved for peace officers who cannot perform more rigorous duties. After Cuiellette performed the light-duty position for five days without incident, his supervisor informed him that the LAPD would not allow him to continue to work because he had been found 100% disabled for workers’ compensation purposes.
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