Best Ohio Disability Attorney Answer: Can I be fired if a serious injury stops me from being able to do my job? If I can’t perform my original job because of a serious work injury, does my employer have to find me another job? At what point does my employer have to stop looking for another job for me if I become disabled or paralyzed?
At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, our employment lawyers help employees every day who have disabilities and experience disability discrimination or a failure by his or her employer to accommodate the disability. (See Can I Get A Disability Accommodation?; ADA Law: How Do I Get A Disability Accommodation At Work?; My Job Is Discriminates Against Me Because I’m Disabled!; and Can I Be Fired Solely Because Of My Intellectual Disability?). Most employers and employees know that you cannot discriminate against disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“). As employment discrimination attorneys, we often discuss the requirement for reasonable accommodations. One of the less talked about requirements of the ADA is the requirement that employers to enter into an “interactive process” and make certain “reasonable accommodations” determined through an individualized inquiry or individualized assessment. A proper evaluation involves consideration of the applicant’s personal characteristics, his actual medical condition, and the effect, if any, the condition may have on his ability to perform the job in question.
A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has shed some light on the requirements an employer has when it comes to the scope and duration of the “interactive process.” In Smith v. Northrop Grumman, a welder, Nicholas Smith, was in a motorcycle accident away from work that caused him to suffer full paralysis. While Mr. Smith was lucky to be alive, his full paralysis made performing his job duties as a welder near impossible. After his leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA“) expired, Mr. Smith had his doctor write Northrop Grumman a note stating that Mr. Smith was paralyzed and could not return to work. Mr. Smith’s employer then extended his leave through a two-year leave program the company operated.
During the course of his extended leave, Mr. Smith’s doctor wrote the employer again stating that Mr. Smith could return to work if certain restrictions were met. Since Mr. Smith was a quadriplegic, the restrictions were considerable. Mr. Smith’s doctor ordered that he could only return to work if there was no climbing, working at heights or tight spaces, lifting over five to ten pounds, or other manual labor. Knowing that it was required to perform an “interactive process,” Northrop Grumman created a reasonable accommodation committee to determine if Mr. Smith could return to work as a welder. Mr. Smith met with the committee and reaffirmed his desire to help the company in any position he could, even outside his original welding position. While Northrop Grumman considered another position for Mr. Smith, he was not hired back in any capacity.
After being denied the chance to return to work, Mr. Smith continued throughout his two year leave to contact Northrop Grumman and repeat his request to return to work. After Mr. Smith’s two year leave expired, Mr. Smith was terminated. Mr. Smith sued Northrop Grumman for wrongful termination and argued that his employer did not meet the California law’s requirement that an employer perform a good-faith interactive process with an employee with a disability (California’s disability discrimination statute closely mirrors the ADA).
There is little doubt that Northrop Grumman’s “accommodation committee” met the ADA’s requirements for an interactive process to determine if Mr. Smith could perform his job functions with his disability. However, issue facing the court was whether Northrop Grumman’s actions were illegal after it turned down Mr. Smith’s request to work until the time Mr. Smith’s two year leave expired. Mr. Smith argued that his employer broke off the interactive process once he was denied the opportunity to return as a welder or take another position within the company despite his continued requests to return to work. Northrop Grumman argued that it continued the interactive dialogue up until the time Mr. Smith’s leave expired and he was terminated.
The court sided with Mr. Smith and held:
It is undisputed that in June 2012, Plaintiff met with Northrop managers and Union representatives to discuss his work restrictions and potential accommodations. It is also undisputed that Plaintiff subsequently interviewed with Northrop for an open tool stock controller position. Although Northrop began to engage in the interactive process, it had a continuing obligation to engage beyond these first attempts. Indeed, California law supports the proposition that when Northrop became aware Plaintiff was not hired for the tool stock controller position, Northrop had the continued obligation to engage in the interactive process and find another potential accommodation. Therefore, Northrop’s argument that its obligation ended when it offered Plaintiff an interview is unpersuasive.
This case illustrates that employers often skirt its duties when it comes to the interactive process requirement under the ADA. Often times, the employer will meet its initial burden to perform an interactive process but will cut off the interactive process while the employee is out on leave. Employees often don’t know that his or her employer has a continuing duty to accommodate, so many times, an employee will get turned down for an accommodation and then simply give up. Hiring an experienced employment attorney will help make sure that you don’t give up too soon! As soon as there is any interactive process, no matter how seemingly thorough, make sure you contact an employment attorney so you can be sure you know what your rights are.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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