Can my employer deny me returning to work with medical restrictions?

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Can my employer deny me returning to work with medical restrictions?

I sustained an out of work injury and my doctor allowed me to return to work with medical restrictions. I have a lifting restriction but can perform the rest of my job duties. My employer will not allow me to return to work until I am completely healed. I have tried to research this on my own and finding the laws very confusing. I would appreciate any advice. I don’t have the money for an attorney and being off work is going to be an extreme hardship for me.

Asked on August 18, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Leaving aside any protections you may have in or from your union contract (which we cannot comment on, not knowing what your contract says), as a general matter, the issue is whether lifting is core, central, or critical to your job or not. Your employer does not have to let you work if you can't do the important functions of your job; it also does not have to accept the risk of liability if your job makes it likely, given your restrictions, that if you try to work you will suffer an on-the-job injury.
So if you are a data entry or customer support person, or a bookkeeper or secretary, for example; lifting is not part of your job, you can easily and safely do your job without lifting, and so they would need to accommodate your medical condition and let you work without lifting. If they fail to do so, speak to an employment law attorney: you may have a legal claim.
On the other hand, say you are  delivery driver, a warehouse or shipping employee, or someone who might have to help lift or support a person (a nursery school teacher, camp counselor, or health aide): in those cases, you cannot safely do important parts of your job with lifting restrictions, and so the employer does not need to let you work.


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