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JAN provides Valuable Info on Return to Work or Stay at Work and Accommodations

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Return to Work (RTW) and Stay at Work (SAW) programs are part of a business’ strategy to retain valued employees and to enhance the productivity of its workforce. “The goal of a return-to-work program, sometimes called a transitional duty program, is to make job changes or provide job accommodations that return individuals to work who are absent for workers’ compensation or disability-related reasons.”[1]

As with workplace accommodation programs, a RTW program should have clear written policies articulating each party’s responsibilities. Accurate job descriptions including the physical demands of particular essential functions should also be developed. This helps everyone in the process (e.g., doctors, rehabilitation staff, and accommodation specialists) understand the job requirements. A good understanding of the job demands and the employee’s limitations and abilities is the starting point for determining if effective job accommodations will enable the employee to return to or stay at work while still recovering from injury. Effective job accommodations insure that the employee returns to work as soon as possible without risk to the employee or employer.

Of the employers who called JAN for technical assistance, most (82%) were doing so to retain a current employee.[2] Thus, most of JAN’s publications contain accommodation solutions that could be generalized to a RTW or SAW situation. JAN also offers a number of examples specific to RTW.

For instance:

Situation – A warehouse employee was transitioning back to work with lifting restrictions after being injured by falling boxes of product.

Accommodation Solutions:

  • Provide overhead structure for lifting devices;
  • Place frequently used tools and supplies at or near waist height;
  • Provide low task chairs, stand/lean stools, and anti-fatigue mats;
  • Provide compact lifting devices to push and pull supplies and tools from storage;
  • Make wheelchairs, scooters, industrial tricycles, or golf carts available; and
  • Provide aerial lifts, rolling safety ladders, and work platforms.

The full publication, Fact Sheet Series: Job Accommodations for Return to Work is available for download. If you need additional guidance in identifying a device, or need information on where to buy the device, please call one of JAN’s Consultants.

Below are resources to learn more about developing your company’s RTW or SAW program:

– Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director

 – Return to Work: A Snapshot (Part 2 of a Continuing Series, Read Part 1)

As more than 80% of inquiries to JAN involve retention of a current employee, the importance of contributing technical assistance to stay at work and return to work programs is vital. Both practices ensure valued employees are retained, productivity is maintained, and recruiting and on-boarding costs are saved. This is the second article in a series about these important practices in the workplace. The following article results from a collaboration between JAN and Return to Work Matters (RTW Matters). RTW Matters is a practical online resource for employers and disability professionals. Look for the Join Now link on the left hand side of the RTW Matters homepage.

He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Employee

In the spring of the year in 2008, on a cold and dreary day, a freezing rain fell to coat everything it touched. Dan had just parked the CDL class truck and was stepping down to move on to his next task. What Dan didn’t know was that the next task would be a trip to the emergency room. When exiting the truck, Dan fell down and landed on his knee, causing a tear that eventually lead to a surgical repair. Two months later, Dan was told he could go back to work, but would have some temporary restrictions. Although his employer didn’t have anything he could do within his physical capacity, they would try and “come up with something.” For the next seven months, Dan remained at home and collected compensation pay at two-thirds his salary.

Although he made use of the time by attending physical therapy and follow-up doctor appointments, Dan was getting bored and a little worried about whether he would ever return to his job. Dan missed the gang at work and would frequently stop by for a chat and any news on possible light duty assignments. Finally, an opportunity came up for Dan to return to work, and even though it was limited to four hours a day of snow plowing, he happily accepted. Eventually, Dan was released to full duty and returned to his heavy equipment mechanic position, but to everyone’s dismay, Dan’s knee started to give him problems within just a few weeks. When the MRI showed another tear, a second surgical repair was performed and once again, Dan was out of a job.

In desperation, Dan scheduled an appointment to talk with the company’s return to work coordinator, who immediately contacted the ergonomic specialist to schedule a meeting for the two of them to meet with Dan and his supervisor to form a return to work strategy. A job analysis was completed, which determined that the physical ability to kneel and squat were essential to performing the heavy equipment job. Unfortunately, these were the very same physical demands that Dan was restricted from doing on what was now a permanent basis. This could have been the end of the story except that the people involved were a bunch of very determined and creative folks.

An ergonomic evaluation of the work area was completed and another meeting was held to discuss a plan. The only thing keeping Dan from returning to his job was his inability to maneuver and work on the equipment. So, was there another way of maneuvering? Well, research would need to be done and budgets would need to be considered. Dan was told that they would let him know when they had some answers. During what Dan would say were some of the longest days of his life, he stayed home, earned less money and worried about his future.

Then came the day when Dan got the call, asking for him to come in to work for a meeting. The news was good. A hydraulic lift had been indentified that could be used to lift the work product to waist height. This allowed Dan to avoid the kneeling, squatting, and heavy lifting he was restricted from doing, while still allowing him to perform all the duties of his heavy equipment mechanic job. This job modification not only returned Dan to his full time job, it came with an additional benefit; the ability for other workers to use the lift, thereby preventing additional work injuries.

From the efforts of Dan and his supervisor, the ergonomic specialist and return to work coordinator, long term disability was prevented. This not only saved the employer money and a loss of production time by bringing on a new employee, it made them feel good that they had a part in doing the right thing by a valued employee. The other employees recognized the efforts of their employer, which instilled confidence that if they ever met with similar circumstances, they would be taken care of. For Dan, the benefits were huge. He could now go back to being a productive member of society and earn the money he was previously earning. For the community, the benefits were limitless: the return of a member to gainful employment and the prevention of unemployment side effects such as anxiety and depression, that affect the individual and family members. This case had many factors that led to its success, but most important was the great team collaboration, established partnerships, and good communication between the employee, supervisor, RTW coordinator, and all the other team players involved in the case.

The cost of the hydraulic lift? $2,667. The return of a valued employee? Priceless.

For more on lifting devices, the costs and benefits of job accommodation, and effective accommodation practices, contact JAN.

– Article by: Mary Harris & Shelly Frohrip, Contributors, Return to Work Matters.

State Orders Air Canada to Pay over $325,000 for Refusing to Accommodate Customer Service Agent’s Disability

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

ELK GROVE, CA — The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced today that Air Canada must pay more than $325,000 in damages after the company fired one of its customer service representatives because of her disability. The Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission) found that Air Canada failed to accommodate the employee’s disability and then fired her because she could not lift cargo – a job function customer service representatives rarely perform.

“Employers must attempt to find reasonable modifications that allow employees with disabilities to keep working,” said the Department of Fair Employment and Housing Director Phyllis Cheng. “Using non-essential job functions as a pretext to deny employment to persons with disabilities is unlawful in California.” 

The employee, Caroline Messih Zemaitis, worked as a customer service agent for Air Canada at Los Angeles International Airport from 1993 to 2007.  Starting in 2004, she held a clerical position in the cargo division that did not involve physical labor.  In 2005 and 2006, Ms. Zemaitis injured her back, shoulder, knee and wrist, and her doctor restricted her from performing such tasks as heavy lifting and repeated bending.  She was able to keep working in the cargo division with minor accommodations such as Air Canada’s provision of a telephone headset and heating pad, and time off for physical therapy.  

When Ms. Zemaitis became pregnant, her back condition worsened and she took a medical leave of absence for about a year.  She tried to return to work in 2007 when her doctor released her with restrictions similar to those she had before, but Air Canada refused to respond to her many communications.  Instead, Air Canada terminated Ms. Zemaitis’s because she could not lift cargo, a job function the airline’s customer service agents rarely perform.

The Commission found during this precedential decision that Air Canada had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act. It ordered them to pay Ms. Zemaitis $102,737 in back pay, $19,720 in lost benefits, and $125,000 for emotional distress.  Air Canada must further reinstate and pay Ms. Zemaitis $54,784 in wages plus interest and pay the State a $25,000 administrative fine.  The airline will also have to post a notice about their liability and develop a policy and train management on reasonable accommodations necessary to allow disabled employees to continue working.

Electrical Supply Company Ordered to Pay $846,300 for Firing Cancer Survivor

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) today announced its largest-ever administrative award of $846,300 against electrical supplier Acme Electric Corporation for firing an employee because he had cancer.  Headquartered in Lumberton, North Carolina, Acme Electric is a division of Actuant Corporation, a Wisconsin diversified industrial corporation that operates in more than 30 countries.

Charles Richard Wideman worked for Acme Electric as western regional sales manager overseeing sales operations in the company’s largest territory from February 2004 to March 2008.   He developed kidney cancer in 2006 and prostate cancer in 2007.  Mr.  Wideman’s cancers required two surgeries and numerous cancer-related outpatient appointments.  The company immediately granted his two requests for time off for surgery and recuperative leave.  However, Mr. Wideman requested further accommodation for the travel limitation his cancers caused from June 2006 through April 2007.  Acme Electric refused to grant or even acknowledge these accommodation requests.  Instead, in December 2007, Mr. Wideman’s supervisor gave him an unfavorable performance evaluation, criticizing him for insufficient travel.  On February 28, 2008, ignoring Mr.  Wideman’s need for accommodation the preceding year and failing to take into account his dramatically improved job performance, Acme Electric fired Mr. Wideman, relying on the insufficient travel pretext. 

After a three-day hearing, the State’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission found Acme Electric violated the FEHA by failing to accommodate Mr. Wideman’s known travel limitation due to his cancers, failing to engage in a good faith interactive process, discriminating against Mr. Wideman because of his disability, and failing to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring.  To compensate Mr. Wideman for his losses, the Commission awarded him $748,571 for lost wages, $22,729 for out-of-pocket expenses and $50,000 for the emotional distress he suffered.  In addition, the Commission ordered Acme to pay $25,000 to the State’s General Fund as an administrative fine.  Acme must further comply with posting, policy changes, and training requirements ordered by the Commission.

Employer lesson: You can’t ignore ADA restrictions simply because it’s a pain to comply with. Any employee with a disability has to perform, with or without accommodations. In this case, had ACME attempted to accommodate Mr. Wideman…and he still could not perform to standard, then there is no liability. To learn about accommodating employees with cancer go to http://askjan.org/media/canc.htm

Categories: Accommodation, ADA, California

EEOC Sues Children’s Hospital Association for Disability Discrimination

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

 The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued the Children’s Hospital Association for discriminating against a job applicant who needs an accommodation for her disability. The applicant was offered a job with the Colorado Children’s Healthcare Access Program, but the offer was withdrawn because of her fibromyalgia. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act employers must provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability.

Click here to read more.

Return to Work or Stay at Work and Accommodations

Return to Work (RTW) and Stay at Work (SAW) programs are part of a business’ strategy to retain valued employees and to enhance the productivity of its workforce. “The goal of a return-to-work program, sometimes called a transitional duty program, is to make job changes or provide job accommodations that return individuals to work who are absent for workers’ compensation or disability-related reasons.”[1]

As with workplace accommodation programs, a RTW program should have clear written policies articulating each party’s responsibilities. Accurate job descriptions including the physical demands of particular essential functions should also be developed. This helps everyone in the process (e.g., doctors, rehabilitation staff, and accommodation specialists) understand the job requirements. A good understanding of the job demands and the employee’s limitations and abilities is the starting point for determining if effective job accommodations will enable the employee to return to or stay at work while still recovering from injury. Effective job accommodations insure that the employee returns to work as soon as possible without risk to the employee or employer.

Of the employers who called JAN for technical assistance, most (82%) were doing so to retain a current employee.[2] Thus, most of JAN’s publications contain accommodation solutions that could be generalized to a RTW or SAW situation. JAN also offers a number of examples specific to RTW.

For instance:

Situation – A warehouse employee was transitioning back to work with lifting restrictions after being injured by falling boxes of product.

Accommodation Solutions:

  • Provide overhead structure for lifting devices;
  • Place frequently used tools and supplies at or near waist height;
  • Provide low task chairs, stand/lean stools, and anti-fatigue mats;
  • Provide compact lifting devices to push and pull supplies and tools from storage;
  • Make wheelchairs, scooters, industrial tricycles, or golf carts available; and
  • Provide aerial lifts, rolling safety ladders, and work platforms.

The full publication, Fact Sheet Series: Job Accommodations for Return to Work is available for download. If you need additional guidance in identifying a device, or need information on where to buy the device, please call one of JAN’s Consultants.

Below are resources to learn more about developing your company’s RTW or SAW program:

– Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director, The Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org)

Much Ado About Mitigating Measures

One of the most significant changes the ADA Amendments Act made to the definition of disability is that now, when trying to figure out how limited a person is by his impairment, we ignore the beneficial effects of any mitigating measures he uses. This change has been very confusing to some, but once you figure it out, it really is not that difficult. All it means is that we now have to determine what effects an impairment would have if the person did not use any mitigating measures.

And just what are mitigating measures? They are things a person uses to treat his impairment or overcome any limitations the impairment causes. Examples include things like wheelchairs, hearing aids, medication, prosthetic limbs, and therapy.

How do we know how limited a person would be without his mitigating measures? First we need to know if he uses mitigating measures. In some cases it will be obvious – we will see his wheelchair or hearing aid or prosthetic limb. In other cases we may need to ask him or get medical documentation when appropriate.

Next we need to find out what would happen if the person did not use the mitigating measure. Again, in some cases it will be obvious. For example, if a person with a prosthetic leg does not use his prosthesis, he will be substantially limited in walking. If it is not obvious, there are various ways to figure out how limited the person would be without the use of a mitigating measure, such as:

  • Find out what limitations a person experienced prior to using a mitigating measure,
  • Find out the expected course of a particular disorder absent mitigating measures, or
  • Look at readily available and reliable information of other types.

You may be wondering when this issue will arise. It usually comes up in the workplace when an applicant or employee requests an accommodation and the employer needs to determine whether that person meets the definition of disability and is therefore entitled to the accommodation. One important thing to remember is that ignoring the beneficial effects of mitigating measures only applies to determining whether someone has a disability. When looking at whether a person needs a reasonable accommodation we do the opposite – we will look at what limitations he has after he uses the mitigating measure. That is why the best approach is to make the disability determination a separate step from the reasonable accommodation process.

So you see, the ADA Amendments Act rule about mitigating measures is not that hard to apply. All it usually takes is some common sense. For more information, see JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and ADA Library.

– Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant, The Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org)

Categories: Accommodation, ADA

Wal-Mart Gets Caught in the Bermuda Triangle

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/memoranda/2011/07/06/10-35729.pdf

The point is this: Just because an injured employee may not be able to return to work due to their injuries…they may be able to return to work by granting them an accommodation. Because Wal-Mart may not have engaged in an interactive dialogue the court let the case move forward. Wal-Mart was also being sued for wrongful termination. As stated by the court:

Here, considering the facts in the light most favorable to Cox, Wal-Mart terminated her between seven and ten months after she invoked her OWCL rights. Cox has offered evidence that during those intervening months, Wal-Mart disciplined her unjustifiably on three occasions, and refused to accommodate her, even though before Cox invoked her rights, Wal-Mart found her performance acceptable and gave her accommodations. A reasonable jury could infer from this evidence that Cox’s termination was causally linked to her invocation of her OWCL rights.”