Just because it is workers' comp doesn’t mean it is not covered by the ADA

A worked related back injury may be covered by the ADA and a reasonable accommodation may be required.
A worked related back injury may be covered by the ADA and a reasonable accommodation may be required.

When an employee has to leave work due to a work-related injury it causes difficulties for many people, especially if it is a disabling injury. That disability status throws the situation into a different category. It is no longer just a worker’s comp issue it is also now a potential Americans with Disabilities issue. This was a the situation for a grocery store in Maryland and that mistake cost them $27,000.

A work related back injury

According to the press release from the EEOC, a store clerk in a Maryland grocery store sustained an injury that restricted the lifting she could do. The company initially accommodated this injury by assigning her to light duty on the customer service desk. However, soon after the company put her on unpaid leave citing that she had exhausted the time limit for light duty. As you might imagine she was upset by this and ultimately filed a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC tried to conciliate the case but being unable to reach agreement they filed a lawsuit claiming:

“…that Safeway refused to observe its legal duty to provide a reasonable accommodation and then unlawfully fired Bonds because of her disability.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination. The ADA also requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, including reassignment to a vacant position, unless it would cause a significant expense or difficulty to the employer. That includes disabilities that were caused by work related incidents.

The penalties

According to the EEOC press release:

“In addition to the $27,000 in monetary relief, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit requires Safeway to rehire Bonds with her continued seniority status and to provide her with a hand scanner or other reasonable accommodation to allow her to perform the food clerk job duties. Safeway is enjoined from violating the ADA, including refusing to provide reasonable accommodations. Safeway will provide annual ADA training to all managers and supervisors at its Westminster store and to all members of its eastern division accommodations committee. The grocery store will also report to EEOC on how it handles any complaints of disability discrimination and post a notice regarding the settlement.”

Not only a hefty fine but also a lot of administrative work and money spent on conducting training.

Is everyone on Worker’s Comp covered by the ADA?

Just because someone is out of work due to a work-related injury does not mean that they are also going to be covered by the ADA. They still have to meet the standards under the ADA of having a disability under the standards of the law. However, if an employee is claiming they need a reasonable accommodation due to a disability injury you need to make sure you are having that documented, interactive discussion with them. Without this documentation, you will never be able to defend the company in court. If you need some guidance it is available in the document EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Workers’ Compensation and the ADA.

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