When a worker gets hurt on the job, it is common for the injured worker to not be able to perform the same duties as before. In some cases, such as where someone suffers an amputation or nerve damage, the consequences could be permanent. Other times, with proper care, an injured worker can fully recover and return to their previous position.
While recovering, workers can potentially receive disability through workers’ compensation. However, it is usually better for everyone if the worker is able to return to the job, even in a diminished capacity, for as much of their convalescent period as possible.
In order to help workers get back on the job after an injury and before their total recovery, employers may have to accommodate those workers. When must employers approve accommodation requests?
Employers should try to fulfill reasonable accommodation requests
The standard for when an employer has to accommodate an employee relates to the extent of the injury and its impact on a worker’s performance, as well as the impact of the accommodation on the employer. Generally, a company should make reasonable efforts to accommodate a worker, so long as their requests don’t create an undue hardship.
A company with 100 workers could remove someone from a physical position and temporarily reassign them to customer service or other less physically demanding roles. However, for a company with only 10 employees and no office support staff, similar accommodations may not be reasonable.
Companies that own their own facilities may be able to retrofit a building to allow wheelchair access, add on to a bathroom and otherwise make physical accommodations for those who need accessibility support. Those who rent, those in historical facilities and those with very small businesses without the revenue stream to cover the expenses of building new facilities may be able to argue that the accommodation request is a hardship.
Employers should not punish or fire workers who get hurt on the job
If a company truly cannot accommodate a worker during the recovery, that means the company or their insurance carrier may have to approve disability benefits until that worker can return to their job or qualify for less intensive accommodations in order to work.
Employers should not terminate someone’s position because they have to take disability leave, because they file a workers’ compensation claim or because they request accommodations for a medical condition. Doing so constitutes retaliation, which is a violation of a worker’s basic rights.