When you have suffered an injury at work or outside of work in New Jersey, you likely want to return to work as soon as possible. Before you can, your doctor might have to release you to return to work. If your doctor believes you should have some restrictions upon your return to your job, he or she might give you a note to provide to your employer. For example, your doctor might ask for you not to lift heavy objects. Whether or not your employer can terminate you for going on light duty at work will depend on the circumstances. Many employers might offer accommodations in your current job while others might offer light or modified duty in a different position instead.
Both employers and employees are expected to operate in good faith with light-duty work. Employers are generally not required to offer employees light-duty work. However, if they do, they must provide work that you can physically perform. In some cases, employers do not act in good faith when they assign light-duty jobs to people with medical restrictions. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler have handled cases in which employers gave employees on light-duty assignments physically demanding jobs or subjected them to demeaning treatment. We have also represented people who have been terminated from their jobs while they were working on light-duty assignments for pretextual reasons. Here is some information about light-duty work and when employees can and cannot terminate you.
What is light-duty work?
Light-duty work includes temporary changes in your job tasks based on restrictions your doctor has placed on you because of an injury or medical condition. If your doctor has placed restrictions on you, you will need to inform your employer that you need to be placed on light duty. Employees have protection available to them under a few laws when they need light-duty work.
Workers’ compensation and light-duty work
In New Jersey, employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage to protect employees who are injured at work or contract occupational illnesses. This coverage allows injured employees who suffer workplace injuries to file claims for benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits include payment for medical treatment, rehabilitation costs, job re-training, and death benefits. It also provides temporary or permanent total or partial disability payments. Many employers will offer light-duty work after you have been injured on the job if your injuries require it to get you back to work sooner.
Family And Medical Leave Act
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act governs employers with at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius of each other. Under this law, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work each year to treat their serious medical conditions or those of their close family members. While your employer must hold your job open for you while you are taking unpaid leave under the FMLA, the law does not obligate your employer to provide you with light-duty work if you cannot perform the tasks of your job once you return. If your medical needs are severe enough or disable you to the extent defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, you might be entitled to light-duty work, however.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Under the ADA, people with defined disabilities have a right to receive reasonable accommodations to allow them to perform their jobs. The burden is placed on the employee to request the accommodations and not on the employer. If the accommodations you request are reasonable, your employer must provide them to you unless doing so would create an undue hardship. However, most medical conditions that only require temporary light-duty assignments are not covered by the ADA.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 forbids discrimination based on pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, and childbirth. If you suffer a pregnancy-related complication and need to be assigned to light-duty work, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations if possible. For example, if your doctor restricts you from lifting more than 50 pounds during your pregnancy, you might ask for a temporary assignment to a less strenuous job.
Most employees in New Jersey are considered to be at-will employees. With at-will employment, employers can fire you for nearly any reason or for no reason at all. However, the reason for firing a worker cannot be discriminatory in nature. Under the FMLA, your employer can ask you for medical certification that you are fit to return to work. If you cannot provide medical certification that you are able to return to your former job, your employer can fire you and will not be required to offer you light-duty work. However, if you suffered a workplace injury and need light-duty work because of your work-related injury, it is illegal for your employer to fire you for needing a light-duty assignment. If your injury caused a permanent disability, your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your disability under the ADA. Depending on the circumstances, you might need to talk to a New Jersey employment lawyer to learn about your legal options and rights.
When can an employer fire you during light-duty work?
If your employer can show that you were fired for a reason that did not relate to your request for light-duty, your termination could be legal. For example, if you were fired for poor attendance, violating workplace rules, or poor performance unrelated to your request, your termination would be lawful.
However, some employers use pretextual reasons for terminating employees simply because they don’t want to accommodate a request for light-duty work. Some examples of when your employer may not have been acting in good faith and instead was retaliating against you include the following:
- Your employer provided you with a job that was too strenuous, setting you up to fail.
- Your employer gave you negative performance evaluations while you were on light-duty work for trivial infractions when your past performance evaluations were generally positive.
- Your co-workers harassed you when you asked for help with tasks you could not perform without help.
- Your employer placed you in impossible positions to try to force you to break a rule.
- Your employer assigned you to sit or stand in one place all day without doing any work.
Talk to a New Jersey employment attorney
If you believe that your employer fired you for asking for light-duty or retaliated against you because of your light-duty assignment, you should talk to an experienced attorney at Swartz Swilder. Call us today to learn about your options at 856-685-7420.