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Don’t let preconceived notions of disabled employee’s capabilities affect reinstatement

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some jobs are physically difficult to perform, especially for someone with a disability. But if a disabled employee’s doctors believe she can perform the essential functions, let her try. Otherwise, you face a potential disability discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Linda’s job at an Erie County juvenile facility sometimes required her to restrain young detainees.

She took time off for a disability. When she returned, she provided a doctor’s note that said she could physically perform all the essential functions of her job, including re­­strain­­ing juveniles. However, the note also recommended against her return for fear that she might reinjure herself while restraining someone. The county refused to reinstate her.

Linda sued. A lower court said she wasn’t qualified for the job, based on her doctor’s note. She appealed.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court. It said that as long as the doctor believed Linda could physically perform the essential functions of the position, the county had to reinstate her or face potential liability for disability discrimination. Linda’s case will now move forward. (Grant v. County of Erie, No. 13-451, 2nd Cir., 2013)

Final note: The county should have reinstated Linda and let her try the job. Alternatively, it could have tried negotiating with Linda to arrange a transfer to another position as a reasonable accommodation. While it’s not wise to force a transfer, discussing one would have been part of the ADA’s interactive accommodations process.

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