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Physical therapy not always sign of disability

by on
in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who need to take time off to attend physical therapy to deal with an injury may believe they’re disabled under the ADA. And they assume the time off must be a reasonable accommodation. That’s not necessarily true.

Employees who otherwise can do their jobs despite needing physical therapy probably aren’t disabled.

Recent case: Johnny Douglas took a job as a cement delivery truck driver. Shortly after starting the job, he had an accident while driving his own car and was injured. He needed physical therapy and started scheduling the treatments at 1 p.m., which was the busiest part of the day. He also began missing work frequently.

When he was fired for poor attendance, he fired back with an ADA lawsuit. His claim? That he was disabled and was therefore entitled to time off for treatments and other absences caused by the lingering pain from the accident.

The court disagreed and tossed out Douglas’ case. It pointed out that he hadn’t shown any substantial limitations in either his ability to do his job (when he showed up) or in taking care of himself. Therefore, he wasn’t disabled or eligible for reasonable accommodations. His employer could use the missed time against him. (Douglas v. Ready Mixed Concrete, No. 5:09-CV-354, ED NC, 2010)

Final note: Of course, for employees who are eligible for FMLA leave, time off for physical therapy may be allowed. The underlying injury may be a serious health condition that requires periodic or repeated physical therapy treatments and the employee may be entitled to intermittent leave to go to appointments. In Douglas’ case, that didn’t apply because he had not worked for the company long enough to be eligible for FMLA leave.

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