How the ADA and Injured Workers’ Protections Interact

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If an injured worker has documented and permanent work restrictions or even long-term work restrictions, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008, that worker can likely invoke the protections of the ADA, unlike the injured worker in the recent St. Martin v. City of St. Paul case. He was found not to be disabled despite being permanently restricted to light-duty work.

However in Nebraska, employers are not obligated to put an injured worker in a light-duty job like they are in other parts of the country.

Injured workers have to reach out to their employers to help themselves stay employed. This reaching out could include suggestions about modifying the job or changing work hours. It’s good practice to be able to document these attempts to reach out to an employer via e-mail. If employers ignore these suggestions, then the employee has a good case for a failure-to-accommodate claim. However in Nebraska, employers are not obligated to put an injured worker in a light-duty job like they are in other parts of the country. Employers can force employees to apply for re-assignment. The employee then needs to be diligent about applying for open jobs. Otherwise, they can jeopardize an otherwise-strong ADA claim.

One trap disabled workers fall into is assuming that their employer is trying to get rid of them and failing to apply for jobs after a reasonable assignment. Courts in Nebraska take this behavior from workers as being unreasonable and use such behavior to justify dismissal of ADA claims.

Sometimes doctor-given restrictions do not match what an employee can actually do. Employees may be tempted to quit if an employer adheres rigidly to doctor-given restrictions. Technically an employer has to take an employee’s explanation of their own disability into account when setting a work restriction. However, courts in Nebraska usually require the employee to give something more than complaints of pain in order for an employer to modify doctor-given restrictions. The wisest move for an employee in such a situation is to try to do the job for a week or so and if the pain continues to consult with a doctor again about changing the restrictions. Employees might want to consider getting a second opinion if they believe their current doctor isn’t cooperating with work restrictions. However, employees should probably consult with a competent workers-compensation attorney if they are switching doctors in the context of a workers-compensation claim.

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