Each year, there are 2.8 million nonfatal accidents and injuries at the workplace in the US. Aside from work-related injuries, employees can get injured off the clock or develop a medical condition. Depending on the condition or injury, achieving a full recovery may not always be possible.
Among those who have lasting injuries or disabilities, there’s a high chance of not being able to work at their previous capacity. When this happens, it’s a challenging situation for both the employer and the employee. Ideally, both parties should work together to develop a working arrangement that suits both parties.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for employees to be subjected to wrongful termination due to work restrictions.
Have you recently sustained injuries or disabilities that limit your capacity to perform your role? If yes, you still deserve a fair chance to continue working. Moreover, you’re entitled to reasonable accommodations. And, your rights for this are protected by Federal and California state law.
Therefore, if your employer infringes on your rights, you can take legal action. But before it comes to that, you should understand some key things. These include; your rights in relation to disability discrimination, reasonable accommodation, the interactive process, and why you may need an employment attorney.
What Is a Work Restriction?
A work restriction refers to a ban prohibiting an employee from engaging in certain tasks due to health and safety concerns. There are different reasons why a work restriction may be put in place. For instance, a site safety officer may restrict employees from working in an unsafe area.
However, work restriction issues arise when there’s an injury involved. In such scenarios, you may be restricted from lifting heavy objects, using computers, and doing a variety of other tasks. Since it should come as per the instructions of a medical professional, you are required to provide a doctor’s note. This is especially so if it’s not a work injury.
Depending on the extent of the injury or medical condition, a work restriction may be temporary or permanent. Temporary restrictions are aimed at allowing you to recover fully while still working. It’s also beneficial to employees who suffer chronic pain as it helps them avoid depression.
What Are the Common Work Restrictions?
If you return to work after an injury, you may be subject to one or more work restrictions. Some of the common ones include:
- No standing for over two hours
- No reaching for objects above shoulder level
- No lifting more than 30 pounds
- No kneeling, climbing, or squatting
- No lifting more than 20 pounds more than five times in an hour
Moreover, work restrictions may also involve alternative work schedules to deal with medical conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression, etc.
What Is Reasonable Accommodation?
Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and government code 12940, employers in California are prohibited from discriminating against employees due to disabilities. Moreover, they are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees.
Reasonable accommodations refer to changes to a work position or even the workplace to enable you to carry on with your job despite your disability. Some of the examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Restructuring jobs– May involve a shift to a different schedule such as a four-day workweek to allow an employee to receive medical care
- Adjusting existing facilities to accommodate disabled workers– This can involve installing telecommunications for the deaf, computer screen magnifiers, adjusting the height of desks, etc.
- Transferring an employee to a different location to give them access to better medical care
- Adjusting training and exam materials to accommodate an employee’s condition
- Hiring personnel such as interpreters or readers to assist a worker
Can Your Employer Fire You Because of Your Work Restrictions?
Regardless of whether it’s a work injury or any other factor resulting in restrictions, it is illegal for your employer to fire you because of them. However, they are expected by the law to make accommodations to enable you to work in some capacity. As such, you should not worry about being laid off simply because of work restrictions.
However, this is not to say that you cannot be fired when you have work restrictions. If your employer provides reasonable accommodations, it is your responsibility to perform as expected. Therefore, disability and work restrictions are no excuse for disregarding workplace rules.
You will still be expected to attend work and perform as expected in line with the accommodations provided. If not, your employer can terminate your contract legally.
The Interactive Process
While there are regulations to govern disability and work restrictions, every case is unique. As such, the accommodations you receive and how you get them will depend on the circumstances. To help ensure that adequate accommodations are provided, the interactive process is recommended.
As the name suggests, the interactive process is a process that embraces collaboration between an employee and employer to determine reasonable accommodations. But while it’s recommended, it’s not a legal requirement under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) or FEHA. Also, it’s not necessary in most cases.
For instance, suppose you injure your arm and require to use a wheelchair. You can request to be kept off lifting duty and have your desk adjusted accordingly. Since you’ve identified and requested for the appropriate accommodation, there’ll be no need for a formal process.
However, when there’s uncertainty or dispute as to which accommodations are necessary, the interactive process is very beneficial. During the interactive process, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends employers to:
- Review your role and determine the essential functions you perform
- Ascertain the job-related limitations by consulting with you
- Discussing with you to identify possible accommodations and determine how effective each will be at enabling you to perform your functions
- Take into consideration your preferred accommodations when determining which ones to offer
How to Get the Best Outcomes from the Interactive Process
The goal of the interactive process is to ensure you get sufficient reasonable accommodations. These will ensure that you can continue working despite your limitations.
Therefore, since you’re the one in need of keeping your job, it’s best to take a proactive approach. You can do this best by addressing your employer’s concerns.
Think of it this way. While they may have the goodwill to keep you on board, they’ll equally be concerned about your ability to perform. If you’re able to address their concerns and provide reasonable recommendations, you’ll be in a better bargaining position.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Analyze your role and determine the essential functions
- Create a list of your job-related limitations and the accommodations that will help you overcome them
- Determine the effectiveness of each possible accommodation
- Estimate the duration each accommodation can be used before changes are necessary
- Determine key aspects about the accommodations such as cost and availability
If you enter discussions during the interactive process prepared, you’ll significantly increase the chances of a positive outcome.
Work Restriction Violations
Unfortunately, while employers should put their employee’s welfare first, that’s not always the case. When this happens, it can make returning to work with an injury much more difficult.
When you have a temporary disability from a work injury, you are entitled to some benefits. Unfortunately, some employers try to evade paying such benefits. To achieve this, they may insist that you resume work and perform tasks that will violate the work restrictions.
When you are put in such a position, it’s important to understand two things. First, violating work restrictions is a lose-lose situation for you. This is because you may lose your benefits and injure yourself further.
Secondly, you have the right to refuse to perform any task that violates restrictions imposed by your doctor. However, you must go about it wisely. Once you refuse, don’t leave it at that. Instead, provide written explanations as to why you refused to perform the task and attach a copy of the work restrictions.
You can also take it a step further and have your disability attorney write a letter to your employer explaining how performing that task will violate the work restrictions.
What if Your Employer Cannot Accommodate Your Work Restrictions?
The primary objective of the ADA is to protect your rights after sustaining a restrictive injury. However, it also serves to protect your employer as well. This is why they are only required to provide ‘reasonable’ accommodations.
In some cases, your injury may leave you unable to continue with your role. Or, the necessary accommodations that may enable you to continue may cause the employer undue hardship. This means that they’re either very expensive, too difficult to adopt, or may cause disruption in the workplace if adopted. Moreover, due to financial hardship an employer may also be unable to accommodate work restrictions.
However, it’s not left to your employer to determine this. They must provide the reasons and evidence as to why they cannot provide accommodations to EEOC. In its capacity as the body that enforces ADA, the EEOC considers various elements to determine whether an accommodation causes undue hardship. These are:
- The cost and nature of the accommodation
- Your employer’s financial resources, hence capacity to provide the accommodations
- Accommodation costs the company has incurred previously
- The nature of the business, including structure, size, composition, etc.
Even though there are such provisions, proving an accommodation causes undue hardship is not easy. When reviewing such cases, courts consider a host of things, including:
- Your willingness to pay for part or all of the costs for accommodations
- Alternative sources of money such as tax credits and deductions that can help cover the costs
How to Deal with Wrongful Termination
Despite the clarity of the law and available reasonable accommodations, you may be fired from work. If this happens, it’s a violation of your rights. As such, you can file a wrongful termination claim against your employers.
Here are some steps to follow after being wrongfully terminated:
1. Maintain Your Composure
After going through a life-changing ordeal, it may be frightening, angering, and distasteful to be tossed aside unfairly. Nonetheless, resist the urge to become uncivil or attempt to get back to your employers. This also includes sending strongly-worded emails.
Instead, speak to your supervisors or boss to understand why exactly they’re letting you go. If the reasons they give show discrimination because of your disability, you’ll be entitled to sue.
2. Gather Evidence
The last thing you want with any case is getting into a situation where it’s your word against theirs. So, gather all the evidence you can to prove your claim. These may include emails, text messages, photos, voicemail messages, etc. Also, if there were witnesses to any key incidents, ask them to testify on your behalf.
From there, write down your version of events to prevent any key details from slipping from your memory. Key details include key events, names, dates, and their sequence.
3. File a Complaint with EEOC
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is in charge of ADA matters. Therefore, it’s vital that you file a complaint for them to intervene on your behalf. Also, doing so creates an official paper trail of your grievances.
4. Hire a Disability Attorney
At this stage, it’s time to file a lawsuit against your former employer. While you can go about it yourself, it’s best to work with an employment attorney. They will guide you through the process and prepare you for what’s to come.
More importantly, a lawyer’s understanding of the law enables them to formulate a strong case, increasing your chances of success.
Get the Justice You Deserve
Being relieved of your duties is often a huge blow to take. This is especially so if it comes after sustaining an injury and it’s not for justifiable reasons.
At Eldessouky Law, we provide legal counsel and support to victims of wrongful terminations. Our team comprises experienced employment attorneys ready to assist you. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation about your case.