Is it OK for a job not to clear you to go back to work after short term disability not because you were not healed but because you are using a cane due to arthritis?

I have worked for Cereal Palsy Associations of New York State for almost 15 years. In the last few years I was using a cane due to arthritis in my knees. I have always done my job and anything expected of me was done. My responsibilities were really to take mentally challenged adults on their medical appointments and assist in their daily activities. Recently, I needed major surgery so I am out on disability. When I went to get clearance to return to work, I was told that I can’t get it due to the fact I use a cane. I explained I had been using it for a few yeas and it never interfered with my job performance. I also said that supervisors, residential coordinators, and administration have all known I use a cane and have never gotten a complaint about my job performance. Do I have options?

Asked on May 20, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

It depends upon whether you can reasonably do your job with the cane and the state/condition of your knees. That you did you job with a cane before is evidence that you can, but does not by itself prove that: your knees may be worse now, for example, than they had been. If in taking mentally challenged adults around, helping with their daily activities, etc. you reasonably need to be able to move faster than you can, or support more weight, or have both hands free/available, then they could refuse to let you work: while employers do need to make "reasonable accommodations" for employee medical conditions or disabilities, the employee still needs to be able to do the core functions of his/her job. So if you can do the job, then not letting your work may well be illegal discrimination-based employment discrimination, and you could file a complaint with the federal EEOC or your state's equal/civil rights agency. But if you can't do the job, then this would be legal.

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