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Accommodations working? Then avoid sudden change of heart following injury

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Disabled employees who receive ADA accommodations expect those accommodations to continue even after an unrelated minor injury. If you suddenly remove the accommodation, you may find yourself facing a “regarded-as-disabled” lawsuit.

Recent case: Bonita Johnston, who has spina bifida, worked as a clinical nurse at a hospital for more than a year. Then someone noticed she had a handicap placard on her automobile. That discovery prompted a request for a medical examination to determine whether she could perform the job she had been doing.

Her doctor looked at her job description and said she could do the job without injuring herself even though she might experience additional pain. She was allowed back to work. All went well for a few more years until Johnston hurt her neck during a very physical confrontation with a psychiatric patient. She took several days off and was again ordered to take a medical exam. This time, her doctor recommended she avoid having to restrain unruly patients.

The hospital then said she couldn’t keep the job and reassigned her to a sedentary job paying less. She sued, alleging that she had been perceived as disabled and had been denied an accommodation.

The court ordered a trial, reasoning that a jury should decide whether management had treated her as disabled and denied an accommodation. (Johnston v. Morton Plant Mease Healthcare, No. 8:07-CV-179, MD FL, 2008)

Final note: This is a nightmare for the employer’s attorneys. Consider how a jury will view a stoic employee with a congenital medical condition whose career has seemingly been derailed by her unappreciative employer.

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