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Don't Demand 100 Percent From Employees Returning To Work With A Disability

By Leslie Zieren, The McCalmon Group, Inc.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued an assisted living/skilled nursing facility operator for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the employer denied light duty and extended leave for 12 employees returning to work from injuries who now have disabilities. 

The employer had a written policy that required any returning employee to be "100 percent" healed and able to perform "100 percent" of their job duties. The employer refused consider any reasonable accommodations to allow the employees to work light duty or to have additional leave.

The EEOC also alleges the employer discouraged employees from "attending routine medical appointments related to their disabilities." The EEOC has a strategic focus on the elimination of inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Lois A. Bowers "Operator's light duty, leave policies discriminated against disabled, EEOC lawsuit says" (Oct. 02, 2017).

Under the ADA, a qualified individual with a disability who is returning to work after receiving treatment for the disability or after recovering from an injury is entitled to engage with the employer in an interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodations are appropriate. The courts have recognized extended leave and light duty as possible reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis, which includes evaluation of the disability, the job duties, and the employer's requirements.

The assisted living/skilled nursing facility operator's written policy that required every returning employee be 100 percent healed and be able to perform 100 percent of the job duties was an inflexible policy that did not allow for case-by-case analysis.

As a manager, when you have an employee returning from any kind of medical leave, be aware that a need for a reasonable accommodation may arise. Suppose, for example, your employee, who has been out with back surgery, returns to work with a complete medical release from his physician. You expect all will go smoothly based on that medical release; however, by the end of the employee's third full day back to work, the employee tells you he is experiencing back pain.

That employee should be referred by you, the manager, to those in your organization who are responsible for managing reasonable accommodation requests because the employee may need additional leave time or light duty to further heal.

The bottom line is you will need patience when employees return to work after an injury or with a disability.

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