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Don’t play doctor with employee ailments

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Electrician David Justice worked at a canning plant when he suffered a stroke. It affected his balance, so when he returned to work, his doctor said he could no longer work on catwalks or ladders.

The company acknowledged the restriction and had other electricians perform the elevated work. Then the company transferred Justice, and his new supervisor didn’t know about the height restriction. He did, however, notice Justice’s balance problems. Fearing Justice posed a safety threat, the supervisor demoted him to a lower-paying janitor job.

Justice filed an ADA lawsuit, saying the company unlawfully “regarded” him as disabled. Thus, he claimed, he was entitled to reasonable accommodations. The company argued that he wasn’t disabled, so he shouldn’t get any special rights.

A lower court sided with the company, but an appeals court reversed. It said the company “misapprehended the nature of Justice’s impairment and … so believed him to be significantly restricted in his ability to perform.” In essence, Justice’s new boss “regarded him as disabled” when he was not. A jury will decide whether that violated the ADA. (Justice v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., No. 07-8036, 10th Cir., 2008)

Advice: Don’t leave it to managers to make the calls about what employees are and aren’t capable of doing.

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