Work Injuries and the ADA

Nov 16, 2021 | Employment Concerns

Work injuries and The ADA – What worker’s compensation rights do you have when you’ve been injured on the job? Is there an obligation for the employer to accommodate you? What is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how does it interplay with workers’ compensation laws? These are a few common questions our clients have asked, and here are our answers.

Work Injuries and the ADA

If I suffered a work injury, is my employer legally obligated to keep my job?

State law says that if you are injured on the job, regardless of who’s at fault, you are entitled to basic benefits and those benefits are medical care, lost wages, permanent impairment compensation, and in extreme cases, compensation for total disability. In short, is there a law stating that your employer has to accommodate you or give you a job? The answer is no. 

No judge in Colorado can force the employer to keep your job or accommodate you. Some employers will accommodate their injured employees, but typically as a temporary accommodation. Still, keep in mind that they’re not required by law to do so. 

How does the ADA interplay in workers’ compensation?

This is where the ADA may come in. Not all employees are covered by the ADA, and that’s why it’s important to have specific legal advice on whether or not you have any protections. Let’s say you are considered disabled or meet the definition of disability according to the ADA, your employer can’t terminate you simply because you have a disability. As long as you are capable of doing the essential functions of that job with or without accommodations, the federal ADA law protects you from being fired simply because you are disabled. It’s important to emphasize that the ADA doesn’t force your employer to invent a job or to dramatically restructure a job, it only requires employers to offer what’s called reasonable accommodations. And that leads us to our next question.

What are reasonable accommodations?

Let’s suppose you work at a library and you have restrictions that limit you from lifting above your shoulders. Unfortunately for you, part of your job is to take the books and put them on high shelves, above your shoulders, and because of your restrictions, you can’t fully complete your work.

A reasonable accommodation is NOT forcing your employer to place books on lower shelves or simply telling your employer to make someone else do that portion of your job. However, a reasonable accommodation could be speaking with your employer and letting them know that you can stay within your restrictions if you use a step-stool instead of reaching up and raising your shoulders. That is an example of a reasonable accommodation that still allows you to do the essential functions of the job. Note that the accommodation is very minimal and light, and it still allows you to do the job as the employer needs it to be done.

Questions to ask your employer about modified duty

When you’re placed at MMI and the doctor gives you permanent restrictions, the next question typically is “am I going to be allowed to continue to do this modified duty?” and if the job is something they would normally pay someone to do, then maybe you can stay there. Or you could go back to your old job and still do the essential functions of it with some reasonable accommodations. It’s necessary to have that discussion with your employer and say, “Here are my permanent restrictions, I can still do this job, and here are the little changes that I may need.” As long as you’re able to do the essential functions of the job employers should, by law, accommodate you.

We’re here to help

Workers’ compensation is always very fact and detail-oriented. What works for one person may not work for the other and that’s why it’s so important for you to get trustworthy legal advice.

Kaplan Morrell Attorneys at Law is offering free consultations to help orient you on your rights. If you or anyone you know is injured on the job in Colorado, let them know that there’s a workers’ compensation law firm that can help. We’ve been doing this since 1995, it’s what we do. Visit our webpage or give us a call at 970-356-9898 to get help today.

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