Disabled worker returning to workSome workers injured on the job may find that their injuries or occupational disease may have left them disabled. They may be well enough to return to their former job after making a workers’ compensation claim, but may need accommodations from their employer due to their disability. These workers must not only be certain to obtain the benefits they are entitled to under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation laws, but also must assert their rights under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants due to a disability. This includes all aspects of employment, such as hiring, termination, promotion, wages, benefits, and job duties. A business that employs 15 or more employees is subject to the Act. Workers who are disabled as a result of a workplace injury—including those who file workers’ compensation claims—are protected under the ADA. The Act covers the following employees:

  • Employees who have physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity
  • Employees who have a previous disability
  • Employees whom the employer perceives as being disabled even if the employee is in fact not disabled

A disability must be a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a worker’s major life activity. This includes basic tasks like walking, bending, reading, and communicating, and major bodily functions, such as the immune system or digestive, respiratory, or brain functions.

A worker must be a qualified worker with a disability to be covered under the Act. This is defined as someone capable of performing the essential duties of the job, with or without an accommodation. These are the duties that are fundamental to the job.

What Reasonable Accommodations Must an Employer Make When a Disabled Worker Returns to Work After a Workplace Accident?

If a person returns to work after filing a workers’ compensation claim and is disabled under the ADA, his employer is required to make reasonable accommodations if necessary so that he can perform his essential duties. When a worker cannot perform the nonessential duties of his job, his employer must reassign these tasks to other workers. There are three types of accommodations an employer may be required to make:

  • Modifications or adjustments to a job application process to enable a disabled person to be considered for the job
  • Modifications or adjustments of the work environment to enable a worker covered under the ADA to perform his essential duties
  • Modifications or adjustments that enable a disabled worker to receive the same benefits of his job as other similarly situated workers who are not disabled.

The employer and employee should engage in an interactive process to discuss and determine what accommodations the worker needs. Some of the accommodations an employer could be required to make include:

  • Making the job site accessible, such as making modifications so it is wheelchair accessible
  • Restructuring the job
  • Modifying the employee’s work schedule or allowing him to work part-time
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment the employee uses, such as providing voice-assisted keyboards
  • Changing tests, policies, or training materials
  • Providing the worker with a qualified reader or interpreter
  • Reassigning the worker to a vacant position

There are limitations on the employer’s requirement to make reasonable accommodations if it would create an undue hardship for the employer. This is defined as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.” Whether an accommodation is an undue hardship will be based on these factors:

  • The nature of the accommodation and its cost
  • The financial resources of the employer
  • The nature of the business, such as its size, structure, and composition
  • Accommodation expenses that the employer has already incurred

Many accommodations are relatively inexpensive and not difficult to implement. In addition, a larger company could be required to spend more money making a reasonable accommodation than a smaller one. If an employer decides that an accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employer must try to suggest another accommodation that would not be an undue hardship or give the employee the opportunity to pay for a portion of an expensive accommodation.

If you were injured in a workplace accident, you may not only need to fight to obtain the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to, but also to assert your rights under the ADA so you can return to work. Call our firm at 877-360-0183 to schedule your free case evaluation.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer