Here’s an important reminder for managers handling workers returning from medical leave who may qualify as disabled: Placing workers in a temporary job may be part of an accommodation but that doesn’t end the process.
The temporary position is more akin to allowing a disabled employee to take an unpaid leave—a way to put a disabled employee on hold. Employers should not stop there. The attempt to locate a permanent position should be ongoing.
Recent case: Amada worked a regular part-time position as a waitress for several years. Then she requested a medical leave for breast surgery. When she returned, the restaurant manager informed her there were no regular part-time positions open, but she could work an on-call spot. She did.
Later, she applied for regular part-time positions, but others were hired. She sued, alleging failure to accommodate.
The employer said she wasn’t disabled and that, even if she were, it had already accommodated her. Amada argued that her surgery left her in pain from scar tissue and that she should have been considered for the first open regular part-time slot.
The court said she was disabled from intense pain from surgery scars and that the temporary on-call job wasn’t in itself a reasonable accommodation, but that the employer should have continued looking for accommodations such as the newly open regular part-time spot. (Perez v. Ricardo’s, No. B250360, Court of Appeal of California, 2015)
Final note: No accommodation is ever permanent. Stay flexible.