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Beware demanding 100% recovery–it could mean you’re violating the ADA

by on
in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Employers are naturally concerned about employees who hurt themselves at work and collect workers’ compensation benefits. One of those concerns is that an early return, before the employee is ready, may cause a reinjury.

That attitude, however, can come back to hurt if you insist on a 100%-healed requirement before the employee can resume work.

Such a policy may end up violating the ADA. The employee will be able to argue that you “regarded” her as disabled. She’ll sue and try to persuade the court that her employer believed her condition prevented her from performing a broad class of jobs.

Recent case: Teresa Watts, who worked as a driver for UPS, hurt her back at work. She received workers’ compensation benefits and remained off work for more than a year. Then she asked to come back.

UPS insisted that she had to be 100% healed. A manager also suggested that she should ask for accommodations. But Watts thought she was able to work without the clearance and sued.

After extensive litigation, Watts went to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge a lower court’s decision that UPS hadn’t regarded her as disabled.

The 6th Circuit agreed with Watts. It said that the company’s insistence on a full medical clearance was evidence it believed she was unfit to perform a wide range of jobs. (Watts v. United Parcel Service, No. 08-3779, 6th Cir., 2010)

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