How NOT to handle an employee’s return to work from heart surgery.

It’s one thing to ask an employee returning to work from surgery, “How can we help you?”

It’s quite another to insist upon work restrictions.

The former is caring; the latter may be discrimination based on a perceived disability.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced (here) that it believed that a midwest employer had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by first imposing restrictions on an employee with a heart condition and then firing him. Here’s more from the press release:

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, … [t]he employee, who has a heart condition, went on leave to have heart surgery. He was released by his doctors to return to work with no restrictions. However, when he returned to work, managers placed restrictions on his ability to work and assigned him to a different job. Nine days later, he was fired, the EEOC said. 

This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it unlawful to discriminate against or terminate an employee because he or she has a disability, a record of a disability or is regarded as disabled.

Why does this violate the ADA?

“Restricting an employee’s ability to work and then firing him because the company regards him as disabled violates the ADA,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “This type of discrimination deprives people of employment opportunities because of myths and stereo­types about disability, and that’s neither lawful nor acceptable.”

“An employer cannot fire an employee simply because of aphysical impairment that does not affect his ability to perform the job.”

When you have an employee returning to work from surgery, it’s fine to ask the employee if s/he needs any help upon return to work. It’s also ok to require medical clearance if you reasonably believe that a medical condition will impair an employee’s present ability to perform essential job functions or that s/he will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition. However, that inquiry must be limited in scope to what is needed to assess the employee’s ability to work.

What’s not ok is imposing work restrictions without any sort of medical evidence to back it up.

Firing the employee nine days later is a bad look too.

 

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”