Help Wanted: New hire with old injury

Does a hospital worker have recourse when an Does a hospital worker have recourse when an old injury doing the job the worker was hired for? Photo Credit: Fotolia

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Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues. ...

DEAR CARRIE: I was recently employed by a major hospital on Long Island. Five days after I began working, an old foot injury flared up, and I could not continue working because my doctor said I could be on my feet for just 25 percent of the workday. But the job required me to be up and about 90 percent of the time. So human resources offered me a wheelchair to help me navigate through the office. But my supervisor and I decided the arrangement would not work, given my job requirements.

Human resources then called me and said other opportunities might work around my limitations. From a list of jobs that might be available I picked three. Since then I have been waiting for a start date. I have called human resources four times and left messages. I have received no call back. Do I have any recourse? -- Insult to Injury

DEAR INSULT TO INJURY: You may have some recourse under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that will depend on the nature of your injury and how an accommodation affects the company.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer," said Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney in the New York District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Manhattan.

Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to the ADA. Smaller companies are subject to New York State human rights laws.

Determining whether you have protection under the ADA isn't always straightforward.

"In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law," Grossman said.

A person can show he or she has a disability in one of three ways: The person may be disabled if he or she has physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing or learning; if he or she has a history of a disability, such as cancer in remission; and lastly, if the person is regarded as having impairments, such as someone who is badly scarred.

"If your reader's foot injury substantially limits the major life activity of walking, she would have an ADA-protected disability," Grossman said. "An individual covered by either of the first two categories above is entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA."

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are usually done. The aim is "to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment," Grossman said.

Reasonable accommodations might include making employee facilities accessible to people with disabilities; restructuring a job; modifying work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; adjusting or modifying exams, training materials or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

"An individual must inform an employer that she or he needs a reasonable accommodation because of a disability," Grossman said. "According to your reader, she has provided enough information to be considered [for] a request for a reasonable accommodation."

After a request is made, she said, the employee and employer should work together to determine whether an accommodation is needed and what type would be effective.

To contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about more information on disability discrimination call 800-669-4000 or go to eeoc.gov.

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