Fortunately for employers, not every temporary physical restriction is a disability under the ADA. If that were the case, employers would spend all their time trying to accommodate problems or conditions that eventually will disappear on their own.
Examples of temporary disabilities include broken bones set in casts, accident injuries that require medical care but gradually go away, and pregnancy. Before you entertain accommodations, look at the claimed disability and decide whether the problem will resolve itself within a reasonable time frame or if it permanently impairs a major life function.
Recent case: Sharon Green worked as a temporary employee for the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation when she had an auto accident. The mishap left her with an injured hand, and she used her accumulated sick and annual leave to recover. Then she became pregnant and asked for.
Meanwhile, she learned that the temporary job she had held would be converted into a permanent one. Her employer asked Green if she wanted the job, but she declined because of her pregnancy.
She later filed an ADA suit, alleging she was disabled and should have been accommodated: Her employer should have held the job open for her until she could return.
The court concluded the ADA didn’t cover Green because she didn’t have a permanent impairment—both the hand injury and the pregnancy were transient conditions. Because neither substantially impaired a major life function, she wasn’t disabled and wasn’t entitled to accommodations. (Green v. New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, No. 04-CV-5144, SD NY, 2008)
Final note: Many temporary physical or medical problems are serious health conditions under the, and eligible employees may be entitled to time off under that law. Always analyze claimed disabilities under both laws, unless your organization clearly doesn’t have to comply with the FMLA because you have fewer than 50 employees.
- Terminating without giving a specific reason? Document rationale for the record, regardless
- You fired worker on FMLA leave? Better have a good reason
- Return pregnant employee to equivalent job
- OK to terminate after FMLA as long as you document business-related rationale
- ADA: 'Toxic' work site (plus toxic boss) doesn't necessarily create disability