Can my employer deny me returning to work with medical restrictions?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can my employer deny me returning to work with medical restrictions?

I sustained an out of work injury and my doctor allowed me to return to work with medical restrictions. I have a lifting restriction but can perform the rest of my job duties. My employer will not allow me to return to work until I am completely healed. I have tried to research this on my own and finding the laws very confusing. I would appreciate any advice. I don’t have the money for an attorney and being off work is going to be an extreme hardship for me.

Asked on August 18, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Leaving aside any protections you may have in or from your union contract (which we cannot comment on, not knowing what your contract says), as a general matter, the issue is whether lifting is core, central, or critical to your job or not. Your employer does not have to let you work if you can't do the important functions of your job; it also does not have to accept the risk of liability if your job makes it likely, given your restrictions, that if you try to work you will suffer an on-the-job injury.
So if you are a data entry or customer support person, or a bookkeeper or secretary, for example; lifting is not part of your job, you can easily and safely do your job without lifting, and so they would need to accommodate your medical condition and let you work without lifting. If they fail to do so, speak to an employment law attorney: you may have a legal claim.
On the other hand, say you are  delivery driver, a warehouse or shipping employee, or someone who might have to help lift or support a person (a nursery school teacher, camp counselor, or health aide): in those cases, you cannot safely do important parts of your job with lifting restrictions, and so the employer does not need to let you work.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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