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Try ADA process even if disability pay is option

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources

Some employees who become injured would just as soon keep working. Rather than collect temporary disability payments, they’d rather see whether they can perform another job or otherwise persuade employers to accommodate their injuries. 

If you face that situation, be careful not to force such employees to go out on disability.

Recent case: FedEx employee Tammy Calef, a single mother, injured her left hand while playing volleyball. She went to work the next day, despite some pain. Her supervisor saw the injury. Shortly after, she was assigned to deliver packages—which technically was not part of her job.

Lifting packages aggravated her injury to the point that her hand had to be set in a cast. Still, Calef never missed work, although she did ask for accommodations so she could rest her wrist.

Instead, HR told her to go home and apply for temporary disability payments. She followed orders, but explained in her paperwork that she did not want to receive disability payments. She wanted to work.

She sued when it became clear FedEx wasn’t going to call her back to work.

A jury awarded her more than $1.2 million in damages. FedEx appealed.

But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn the verdict. It reasoned that by sending her home on disability, the company regarded her as disabled— and therefore unable to work—and refused to engage in an interactive accommodations process. (Calef v. FedEx Ground Packaging System, No. 08-2031, 4th Cir., 2009)

Final note: While on disability, Calef enrolled in law school while working several part-time jobs and caring for her children on a drastically reduced income. By the time of the trial, she had graduated and accepted a job as an attorney—making $10,000 less than she had at FedEx. The jury made sure its award made up the difference.

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