Company Forced to Rehire Woman It Fired After Work-Related Injury
Staffer sues employer for violating her rights under the ADA
Imagine you were injured on the job. At first, your employer is helpful and accommodating. But as weeks go by and you’re still unable to return to your regular work duties, you start to get the feeling that your job might be on the line. Next thing you know, you find yourself filing for unemployment.
The question is, does the company have any obligation to retain injured workers who can’t resume their full job duties?
Injured employees who qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be protected from termination as a result of their injuries. A recent case provides some insight into how the ADA may impact people who have been hurt on the job.
Employer Assistance Expired
Patricia Bonds worked in the food service area of a Safeway grocery store. However, one day at work, she got hurt.
Because of her injured shoulder, Bonds was no longer able to lift. That meant she couldn’t perform all the job duties of her regular position.
The company agreed to temporarily move Bonds to the customer service desk instead. However, after several weeks, Bonds claims that she was suddenly placed on indefinite unpaid leave. Reason: The company told her that she had exhausted the time limit in which she was allowed to work a modified-duty position.
Bonds complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued on her behalf. It claimed that the company had violated Bonds’s rights under the ADA by failing to accommodate her disability and then firing her because of her condition.
The company agreed to a settlement before the case went to trial. It must pay Bonds $27,000, reinstate her employment, recognize her full level of seniority, and provide physical accommodations to allow her to perform her job duties.
(The case discussed here is EEOC v. Safeway.)
What the ADA Covers
It’s important to recognize that any ADA issue must be considered on a case-by-case basis under the law. There’s no list of conditions that are or are not covered by the ADA.
People who are injured on the job may qualify for ADA protection. In general, individuals are covered by the ADA if they’re qualified to do their jobs (which, presumably, most injured workers would be), if they suffer from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a life activity, and if they’re able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodation.
Workers who are covered by the ADA are often entitled to receive reasonable accommodations on the job. Employers are obligated to engage in an interactive process with those employees in order to determine accommodations. That means they have to put forth a good-faith effort to find a solution before terminating a disabled employee.
Reasonable accommodations may include a variety of things, including providing assistive devices, modifying job duties, or reassigning employees to vacant positions.
In some cases, employers may be required to provide modified or light duty work as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
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If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against under ADA, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney right away.