Is it legal for my company to disregard my doctor’s work restriction in coming back to work if I was denied worker’s comp and just collecting TDI?

I started having pain in my hands about 3 years ago from the repetitive motion of opening hard-to-open

plastic bags, as part of my duties being a cashier. When the company finally changed the bags to much easier Ones, the pain lifted. Over a year ago, they brought back the bags and the pain returned to my hands. I filed for worker’s comp and the IME denied that my work caused the pain. My company then had me working with audio player equipment one day a week. The task of pulling them out of the chargers, programming them, attaching the headsets into the handsets, and then reversing the process, was causing excessive pain to my hands again. The pain was due to the pressure involved with my thumbs, same kind of pressure used for opening the plastic bags. When I reported the pain to my manager, the assistant manager scheduled me 2 days out of the week with the audio players. When I told them that the pain is not having a chance to subside overnight, I was scheduled for 3 days out of the week. I finally took off because the pain was unbearable and seeked help from my doctor. I collected TDI for almost 4 weeks until my company threaten to terminate me if I didn’t return. My doctor allowed me back but restricted me from working in the audio department. The audio dept was not where I was originally hire to work in 9 years ago. The company wanted the workers to cross train there to provide assistance when it;s busy. When I returned to work, my schedule had me on 5 out of 10 days a 2-week schedule in audio. When I asked my manager why, he stated that HR told them to schedule me in audio, against my doctor’s restriction.

Asked on June 27, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Hawaii

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Your doctor's note does not control what the company can do: the doctor has no authority over the employer. 
The law states that an employer must make a "reasonable accommodation" for an employee with a disability. But a reasonable accommodation is a change in a procedure or rule, or the provision of some assistive device or technology, which is not too expensive or disruptive for the employer *and* which still lets the employee do all aspects of his/her job. Not doing part of your job is not a reasonabe accommodation and an employer may terminate an employee who cannot or will not do his or her job. You write that the cashiers generally--not just you--have been cross trained to help out audio and are expected to help in audio when not busy; working in audio is therefore part of the job of a cashier, which also involves other things which apparently cause you problems, like opening the plastic bags. If these things (the bags; the tapes) are part of a cashier's job at your employer's business, then you must do them and the employer can require you to do them; if you can't do them, you can't have that job and would need to seek other employment. The employer does not need to either let you do less work than other cashiers or to give you a different job: you have to be able to do all aspects of your job. (It doesn't matter that audio was not there when you started, if it is not part of the company and helping out in it is part of a cashier's job: the employer can determine what is and is not part of your job, and this can change over time--so the employer can make working on audio part of a cashier's job and require you to do this.)
Based on what you write, this appears to be legal.
 


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