Employees who are unable to perform anything but sedentary work may be disabled under the ADA. That means employers may have to find ways to accommodate them, including finding open positions for them to fill elsewhere within the company.
Recent case: Barbara Fowler worked as a janitor and housekeeper at a hospital until she injured herself at work. Fowler took and then returned to a light-duty clerical position after her doctor released her to sedentary work.
When Fowler learned her position was going to be eliminated, she contacted HR to ask about other open clerical positions. She applied for one, but was never contacted. She was then terminated.
Fowler sued, alleging she was disabled and entitled to a transfer to an open position.
The hospital argued that Fowler couldn’t be disabled because she was merely limited to sedentary work. The court disagreed and ordered a trial.
It reasoned that if Fowler could show that her restrictions substantially limited the types of jobs she could do, she might meet the ADA disability definition—and might be entitled to a transfer to an open spot. (Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, No. 07-4285, 3rd Cir., 2009)
Final notes: Why not make it a routine practice to consider all employees with medical restrictions for any appropriate open positions? At the very least, make an attempt to assess whether such jobs may be a good match, whether you’re convinced the employee is disabled or not.
Remember, the ADA requires you to engage in an interactive accommodations process. Summarily dismissing a request won’t fly if the employee sues and the court finds that she’s disabled.
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