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Can we fire? Doctor added 3 months to injured worker’s restrictions

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in Employment Law

Q. One of our employees broke his ankle while on vacation last summer and he has still not fully recovered. He has been on work restrictions from his physician since the accident, and those restrictions limit his ability to perform job duties that involve walking, standing or lifting. We have accommodated the restrictions, but we recently received a note from his doctor asking us to extend the restrictions for another three months. Do we have to do that or can we simply terminate the employee?

A. This is a difficult situation. If your organization has more than 15 employees, you may be required by the ADA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act to provide the additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. That’s because it’s possible that your employee’s broken ankle could be considered a disability.  

The ADA was amended in 2008 to expand the type of conditions that will be considered a disability. Based on the work restrictions you describe—which sound like they include significant restrictions on the ability to stand, walk, and lift—there is a strong possibility that this ­employee’s condition will be considered a disability.  

If it is a disability, an extension of the accommodation may be required unless doing so constitutes an undue hardship for your organization.

The standard for proving an undue hardship is fairly high. It will be well worth the time and money to consult with your attorney to make sure you understand and are meeting your legal obligations.

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