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When employee returns after medical leave, don’t assume need for accommodations

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Here’s a recipe for trouble: An employee returns from medical leave, but doesn’t say anything about his condition. His supervisor asks him if he needs accommodations.

It might suddenly occur to the employee that accommodations are a good idea. Or he might think he’s being treated as if he is disabled. Either way, the question triggers a whole host of issues that may never have come up if not for the supervisor’s inquiry.

The better approach: Assume that a returning employee can resume his job. Employees who don’t ask for accommodations aren’t entitled to them, so why stir up trouble?

Recent case: Patrick Poole aggravated a hernia and splashed a chemical in his eye at work. He took some time off to recover from the hernia and got workers’ comp payments for the eye injury while it healed. Then he returned to work.

Later, after he had been fired for unrelated reasons, Poole sued, alleging that he should have been accommodated because he was disabled. He claimed that after surgery for yet another condition, he wasn’t allowed to take necessary restroom breaks.

But it turned out that Poole had neither asked for restroom breaks nor suggested he had a disability. The court tossed out his case, concluding that someone who never asks for an accommodation isn’t entitled to one. (Poole v. M-Tek, No. 3:08-CV-2316, ND OH, 2009)

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