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If employees become disabled, consider them for other jobs

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Employees who become disabled and can no longer perform the essential functions of their jobs, even with accommodations, can be discharged. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) does not protect employees under these circumstances.
A recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision also makes it clear that employers don’t have to create permanent light-duty positions as an alternative.

But, before you conclude that a newly disabled employee has no rights under the NJLAD, consider this: A federal trial court has recently ruled that the same employee you could freely discharge because he cannot perform the essential functions of his old job may still sue under the NJLAD as an applicant for other company positions. As an applicant, the employee isn’t entitled to be automatically placed in an alternative position, but the employer cannot refuse to consider him for open positions because he’s unable to do his old job.

Recent case:
William White worked as a full-time package handler for UPS until he hurt his ankle at work. After months off, he tried to return, but found that he simply couldn’t stand and lift 70 pounds, as package handlers must regularly do on the job. White admitted there was no possible accommodation that would have allowed him to perform the essential functions of his job. UPS discharged him.

But then White sued, alleging there were open positions at UPS that he could have performed and that were within his medical restrictions.

UPS argued that its obligations to White ended when he admitted he could no longer do the package handler job.

The court disagreed. It said NJLAD prohibits discriminating against individuals who want to apply for other open positions simply because they can’t perform their old jobs anymore. It said a jury should decide whether UPS refused to consider White because of his disability and inability to work as a package handler. (White v. United Parcel Service, No. 07-2464, DC NJ, 2008)

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