When an employee is injured on the job, some employers believe that the employee should be completely healed and require no restrictions before being allowed to return to work. This practice is dangerous for employers, as it could result in a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Workers who are considered disabled are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace under the ADA. If an employer has a static policy of requiring all workers to be 100% healed before returning to work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) could view that policy as discrimination against an employee who could perform his or her essential job duties if they were given the proper accommodations. To avoid this type of lawsuit, employers should be prepared for injured employees who are cleared by their physician to return to work with restrictions.
At Catalyst RTW, we have been providing return to work solutions to companies across the country for over 10 years. Here are some of our most useful insights we’ve learned over the years:
Inform Health Care Providers of Essential Job Duties
Physicians and health care providers are often unaware of the workplace conditions and job duties related to individual positions. It is important to provide network physicians with information about the injured employee’s job, including the essential duties and demands of a typical day in that job.
This allows physicians to make informed decisions about the employee’s ability to perform each task and whether they are able to return to light duty work or their regular position with no restrictions.
Consider Light Duty/Alternate Duty Positions
Even before any injuries take place, it is helpful to consider and establish what types of positions can be adapted into light duty or alternate duty positions. If these light duty descriptions are available before a worker is injured, they can also be provided to the physician who can use them to determine whether the employee could perform that job during their recovery.
Provide Workplace Accommodations
If the employee is cleared to return to work with restrictions due to a disability, explore the accommodations that could allow that employee to perform their job. Under the ADA, this should be an interactive process with suggestions and investigation by the employer of all available and reasonable accommodations. If an accommodation suggested by the employee is not feasible, the employer should provide concrete reasons why (such as cost), document those reasons, and suggest an alternative.
Allowing injured employees to return to work with restrictions can be beneficial for both the employer and the employee, reducing lost time and keeping the individual engaged in the company. It is essential to understand the relevant workers’ compensation laws and ADA regulations; if necessary, speak with your legal counsel while developing job descriptions and light duty alternatives and while researching reasonable accommodations for disabled workers.
If you need assistance with your return to work program, or if you have a specific case in which an employee will be returning to work with restrictions, Catalyst RTW can help. Our TransitionALL program provides home or site-based modified duty work for employers who do not have a return to work program. TransitionALL is also available to those employers who do have a return to work program, but may need assistance with a special case. Contact us today with questions, or fill out our online form to receive a free evaluation of your workers’ compensation case.