It makes sense that if an employee’s doctor releases him to return to work with no restrictions, the employee can’t be disabled. Don’t make that dangerous assumption!
The ADA covers employees when their claimed disability affects a major life function—and that function can be one that’s not an immediately obvious factor at work.
Recent case: Jerry Eifert was working as a polisher for an aerospace-industry manufacturing company when he injured his neck in an automobile accident. After he recovered and returned to work, he claimed he turned his head, heard a “pop” and immediately began experiencing problems with his neck and hands.
Eifert then had neck surgery and was out of work for nearly four months. The company eventually terminated him when his leave ran out.
Eifert sued, alleging disability discrimination.
His employer pointed out that Eifert’s doctors had released him from any work-related restrictions and therefore his condition must have been temporary and not covered by the ADA.
But Eifert testified that he still suffered from sharp pain and numbness and that he worried that he would suddenly drop things.
This, he argued, amounted to a substantial impairment of his ability to perform the major life activity of lifting. The court agreed and ordered a trial. (Eifert v. Sample Machining, No. 23123, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2009)
Final note: Remember that the ADA requires an individualized assessment of whether an individual is disabled.
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