The ADA protects disabled employees from discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. That doesn’t mean every minor impairment qualifies as a disability. To be covered by the ADA, the condition must substantially impair a major life function, such as walking, breathing, caring for oneself or working.
That’s a tall order—and should be. Otherwise, the millions of Americans with relatively minor problems would be entitled to special considerations. In most cases, common impairments that limit the ability to lift substantial weights aren’t disabilities under the ADA.
Advice: When an employee tells you about a lifting restriction, get more information. Ask how it impacts his or her life. If the effect is minor, and the employee can perform a wide range of jobs that don’t require lifting, that employee is probably not covered.
Recent case: Letter carrier Joshua Huppert told his U.S. Postal Service supervisors he couldn’t lift more than 20 pounds. The Postal Service modified his route to help, but Huppert asked for extra time to complete his route.
He later complained that his supervisor told him to stop wasting so much time and micromanaged his schedule. Huppert sued, alleging he’d been subjected to a hostile-work environment because he was disabled.
The court saw things differently. It concluded that Huppert wasn’t disabled because the lifting restriction didn’t bar him from performing a long list of jobs—just jobs involving heavy lifting. The restriction didn’t substantially impair his ability to do other day-to-day things like walking or taking care of himself. (Huppert v. Potter, No. 06-4018, 7th Cir., 2007)
Final note: Get a medical assessment and expert opinion to be sure an employee is really disabled.