Safety and OSHA News

Can employer deny overtime to worker on light duty?


Blanket policies barring employees on light or limited duty from working overtime violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That’s the upshot of a case involving United Airlines. In a consent decree filed in federal court, the company has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle an EEOC disability-discrimination lawsuit.

From 1998 to 2003, the airline had a policy that denied overtime work to employees who were on light or limited duty.

Samuel Chetcuti, a United employee at the San Francisco airport, filed a claim against the company.

Chetcuti has epilepsy and was under medical restrictions that prevented him from operating heavy machinery or working “at heights.”

United considered Chetcuti on light duty. He was medically cleared to work overtime, but United’s policy prevented him from doing so.

A consent decree between United and the EEOC states that the airline “shall not discriminate against United employees at San Francisco International Airport on the basis of disability regarding eligibility for overtime.” United ended the overtime restriction in 2003.

EEOC attorney William Tamayo said United’s former overtime policy ran “counter to the ADA’s goal that each employee be evaluated individually on whether they can get the job done, with or without an accommodation.”

One of the best ways to reduce workers’ comp costs is to have a light-duty program already in place for injured or disabled workers.

Does your company have a light-duty program in place for employees who are injured or who are diagnosed with a medical condition? Let us know about it in the Comments Box below.

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  1. This article is talking about an employee who has an injury/illness not caused by work- we do not provide light duty for injuries/illness that occur outside of work-but I do routinely deny overtime hours to employees who are injured on the job. My philosophy is that they need to reserve their energy for healing of the injury so that they can return to work at full duty as soon as possible. Does this ruling apply to Worker’s Compensation cases where the injury/illness is a temporay condition?

  2. I work for the State of California. Our department has a policy of restricting temporary limited duty assignments (TLD) to 8 hours a day. So, for example, if an employee was on an alternate work week schedule prior to the injury that placed them in a TLD assignment (9/8/80, 4/10/40), that employee would need to go to a 5/8/40 work week. Are we in violation?

  3. Technically, this article is written incorrectly. “Light Duty” is temporary in nature and past ADA rulings have held that the law does not apply to a person in the healing period. This situation is clearly permanent and to consider the person on “Light Duty” is just plain wrong. There should have been an analysis of the situation using the ADA rules as guidance as these are the result of a qualifying disability.

  4. We do not allow overtime for employees who have suffered an on-the-job injury. It does not make sense for someone who is trying to recuperate from an injury to work more than eight hours/day. We do provide light duty work for injured employees.

  5. Denying overtime to workers on light or limited duty is to incentivize them to return to full duty as soon as possible. Workers who are on light duty and are not penalized financially have little reason to rush their recovery. EEOC is right that blanket rules are discriminatory, but what tools does EEOC allow an employer to prevent being exploited by malingerers? I’ve seen both sides, and it’s a tough situation for all concerned. The risks of a relapse or further injury incurred due to a too-early return to work have to be balanced against the risks of a short-staffed workplace while a worker takes an in-house vacation. This is the sort of thing that makes management an art, not a science.

  6. Editor’s note: We’ve amended the story to state the question as it was posed to the EEOC: The agency’s ruling covers Light AND Limited Duty.

  7. Robert Karp says:

    The article said that the individual was deemed fit to work overtime hours.

    I think that is the critical point.

    An employee that obtains that consent from a doctor while on limited duty would probably have some legal grounds if everyone else is working overtime and the person on limited duty is not when he has doctor’s authorization. That is were the Equal Opportunity comes into play.

  8. This person was on “medically restricted” duty due to a continual medical condition, i.e. a disability, not light duty/return-to-work. There is a big difference. The EEOC did not rule on return-to-work light duty, but on a “disability”. Since workers compensation is a state regulated coverage, each state’s law will be different regarding true light duty. As a rule, if a person is recovering from an injury, why would you allow him to work overtime and possibly exacerbate the injury? The purpose is to return the person to full duty as soon as possible, while preventing them from becoming a TV watching couch potato.

  9. William Rofrano says:

    We do not have a light duty provision. Employees must either be cleared to work without restrictions by their doctor and our Emploee Health doctor or they can not return to work, period end of subject. Now a disability is a horse of a different color. I am sure our HR Dept is in full compliance with ADA on that subject.

  10. Did I miss something here? How does anyone become ENTITLED to work overtime? This is a preview of things to come with the “Employee Free Choice Act”.

    Regardless of injury or anything else, how should an employer be required to pay a premium compensation rate -time and a half- when he/she is not getting the full (hired-for) work output during the first 8 hours?

    Just curious.

  11. Gary Lindberg says:

    It makes more sense for an injured employee who is on “light duty” to avoid working more than a regular eight-hour shift to limit that person’s exposure to further injury. If that employee gets injured again, that aggravation could cause more severe injury with all its implications and would be the responsibility of the Company as well. “Light duty” is normally temporary unlike the permanent nature of the disability in the United Airlines case. In the United Airlines case, the employee had clearance from his doctor. Our company goes by the restrictions stated by the treating doctor. And those restrictions end when the treating doctor says they end. The most important point to help the injured employee heal as quickly as possible while working “light duty.” Our company believes that is the best win-win situation for employee and Company.

  12. Bob Knouse says:

    It goes to show you must be very careful what you write into any company policy. I’ve seen quite a few companies mean well but get bit in the behind by not knowing, consulting legal or even researching current or changing laws and in OSHA cases, I’ve seen companies fined for violating their own policies. Kinda makes you want to use the phrase ‘will be decided on a case by case basis’ in a few of them doesn’t it?

  13. I agree with Glenn D. The individual in this article appears to be a person under “Reasonable Accomodation”, not temporary light-duty. My organization does not offer overtime to employees who are on ‘temporary light-duty’ as a result of an occupational injury.

  14. Janie Fillman says:

    Once the “light or limited” duty employee is well enough to get a Dr.’s note allowing overtime, it’s time to find out why he/she is still on “light” duty. If he/she is on permanent “light duty”, it is possible to have an overtime need. Just because an employee is unable to be as physical, does not mean the employee shouldn’t help when a project needs the team to work extra time. He/She is still part of the team and should be treated equally as such.

  15. Bill Waugh says:

    As a heavy construction company We fall under different rules. We could never hire someone with epilepsy to begin with. However, we do offer light or restricted duty to our injured/returning to work employees when available. They are never clearded for over time until cleared for regular duty.

  16. John Bankert says:

    Our policy for somebody that is on Temporary Limited Duty for a work related injury is, in order to be eligible to work overtime the employee must be able to perform 50% or more of his normal job duties unless a doctor states that he can not work any overtime. We have not had anybody take longer than normal to recover from their injury by doing this.

  17. First I agree that this was not a case of ‘Light Duty’ but falls under ADA. Second we do not accept the words ‘Light Duty’ as they must be accompanied with a description of what their restrictions are so we can determine if they are able to peform the essentials of their job bid. Once this is decided by a team consisting of myself, Human Resource/Safety Mgr along with the Plant Manager and the supervisor the employee works under, we then look to see how the doctor noted the hours this employee could work while on ‘Restricted Duty’. I rarely see a case where the doctor, once they have a copy of their full job duties which we send with our Fitness for Duty, does not restrict the hours also, especially on workman compensation. I have been working for the same company for over 25 years and have been handling my job for approximately 23 years so I am speaking with longeviting in this area. No company should accept doctor’s restrictions without first making sure they have full knowledge of what the employee’s duties are and then having a complete listing of how the restrictions are to be handled per the doctor’s instructions. This gives a company more control in getting an employee back to work full duty quicker and does not allow the employee to use the system as easily.

  18. Light duty program could work for you and could work against you, depending on the industry and the duty of the injured employee. Generally speaking, in hotel industry, besides the employees who are working with adminstration duty, we should not have a light duty program for any employee who works as a labor worker, simply because every labor worker will claim they got hurt and request to be on the light duty.

    Insurance broker usually convince you to have this program in hand as a part of enhancing your safety policy, hence reducing your premium. I don’t bind that.

  19. It would depend on the individual, and the job being performed. If the work that requires overtime requires full duty (like operating heavy machinery) and the limited duty job does not require overtime, then you can’t be expected to simply give overtime where it is not needed. If however, the limited duty job required OT and you gave the OT to someone else instead of the limited duty individual, that could be grounds for discrimination.

    In my company we have a mentally handicapped man who sweeps up and collects the scrap for recycling. He almost never gets OT because his limited duty job doesn’t require it, and he can’t run production saws or drive a lift truck. That’s just the way it goes.

  20. One word explains this whole mess “California”

  21. The law in Oregon basically comes down to this. If an employee usually gets overtime and has an occupational injury and you restrict them to 40 hours a week that employee is entitled to lost time wages.

  22. I agree with James C. “California”. But, also that this is an ADA ruling and not “light duty”.

  23. My job always try to put me on a post when they know i am on light duty and they make me work over time. Is this wrong???

  24. My husband is on light duty from a fall involving his work. Can they cut his pay to mimium wage because of this light duty work. It will only be for a week we hope but they have done this to others who were hurt. Would just like to know what to expect.

  25. I been put on lt duty where I am not allowed to lift 50 as per my job decription, I can preform all my other duties and can lift 5lbs, my employer Culinaire Intl. has put me on Tempoary on -call status but if I am not able to work because I can not preform the job duties how can I be on -call. Can this company do this they wont allow me to work, but I’m still employeed so I can not collect UI and because I live I AZ the don’t have SDI like in California.

  26. Employees on restricted duty, whether work related or not, are issued a light duty job description in writing and part of the document delineates their rights and responsibilites. There is a declaratopm that they are not permitted to work in another department or overtime unless approved by a Safety Officer. This ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the person’s limitations. We found workers on restricted duty working overtime in another department without the other department knowing or enforcing their restrictions.

  27. Cheryl NiecyBoyd Poindexter says:

    I’m on a recurrence limited duty job..restriction Is to 10lbs….there’s a limited duty job for b4 tour 2hrs, in my bid section to hang plastic sacks, but my employer won’t allow me to work it. Mind you, I am the most senior person to pick that job, so therefore I feel violated, that a jr. employee can work that (my) section…it just doesn’t seem right. What do you think? Pennsylvania.

  28. Penny c Martine says:

    When did it pass that a person who is released for full duty is deny to come back to work because the doctor has no overtime restriction.

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