If my boyfriend was diagnosed with carpal tunnel due to his job so he has been placed on light duty by his doctor, can he sue the company for not following his doctor’s note?

His doctor wrote him a note on Wednesday telling his employer to change his work to light duty, this morning he told me that they have him “crew chiefing” which is what the doctor told him not to do because it will only make his problem worse.

Asked on August 22, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Why would the company have to follow the doctor's note? Did the company sign a contract obligating it to follow the doctor's instructions? Is the doctor the owner or president of the company? 
The simple fact is, a doctor has no authority over an employer the doctor does not have the power to require the employer to do anything, such as change an employee's duties.
An employer does have to make "reasonable accommodations" for a disabled even temporarily disabled employee, but the problem is, a "reasonable accommodation" is a change in workplace rules or procedures, or the provision of some assistance technology, which is not too expensive or disruptive to the employer and which lets the employee do the job for which he was hired and is employed. The employer does not need to give the employee a different job or duties.
To use a carpal tunnel example say that a law office secretary gets carpal tunnel from computer use. The law firm may need to get her a more ergonomic keyboard, or a shelf for the computer or different-height chair to change the angle she uses the computer at, or get her one of those wrist rests. But she still has to type and use a computer, because that is a secretary's job--the law firm would not have to give her a different job, like being a receptionist or tech-support person. And if she could not, even with a reasonable accommodation, do her job, she could be fired.
So if crew chiefing is part of your boyfriend's job, he can be required to do it. The employer may have to make a reasonable accommodation, similar to those described above, to let him do it more easily or safely. But if he cannot do the job, he could be terminated, because the employer does not need to retain or pay someone who cannot do the job for which they are employed.
If your boyfriend is eligible for FMLA leave you can find the criteria on the U.S. Department of Labor website, then taking unpaid FMLA leave while he recovers/heals may be a good option.


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