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Check employees’ work history if they claim a disability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Just because a doctor sets a physical restriction on an employee, that doesn’t mean the employee is “disabled” and entitled to special ADA accommodations.

This often comes into play with restrictions on lifting. If those restrictions don’t interfere with the employee’s day-to-day life or prevent the employee from performing a broad range of other jobs, he or she is not considered disabled.

Often, though, an employee with lifting restrictions will sue anyway, assuming the employer won’t question that the worker is disabled. But you should call that bluff. Make him or her prove that the minor physical problems eliminate a broad range of jobs.

Then check the worker’s employment history. If it includes previous work in a white-collar or supervisory position, that’s even better proof. The minor ailments aren’t disabilities that prevent gainful employment.

Recent case: Thomas Grant worked as an upholstery technician. After an injury, he had trouble moving and lifting furniture without asking for assistance.

When Grant was fired due to a theft charge, he filed an ADA lawsuit, claiming his disability was the real reason.

The company’s response: The lifting restriction alone didn’t qualify him as “disabled” under the ADA because he could still perform a long list of other jobs. As proof, the company trotted out his employment history, which showed he’d been a supervisor before choosing to return to the more physical job.

The court agreed and dismissed the case. Because Grant could work as a manager, his lifting restriction didn’t interfere with his ability to work, so the ADA didn’t cover him. (Grant v. RTG Furniture Corp., No. 1:05-CV-3180, ND GA, 2006)

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