Is it legal to decrease an employee’s pay when returning to work from being sick and on restrictions?

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Is it legal to decrease an employee’s pay when returning to work from being sick and on restrictions?

Asked on April 11, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If the employee cannot do all aspects or duties of the job that he or she had been hired to do--such as due to restrictions--then the employee's pay may be reduced; indeed, if the employee cannot effectively work, he or she could even be terminated. The law does not require employers to pay people when they cannot do their jobs, even if the reason is illness, injury, or recovery.

There is a wrinkle in that if the employee's condition would qualify as a disability--and not all medical conditions do; to be a disability, it must have significant and not-easily-remedied impacts on basic life functions--then the employer must offer the employee "reasonable accomodations" to do the job, if possible. A reasonable accomodation is a change in duties or provision of assistive technology or devices, if such is not too expensive or disruptive. Some examples:

1) A lobby security guard has trouble standing for prolonged periods--provide a chair or  stool and allow him/her to sit.

2) An employee is hard of hearing; provide a phone that amplies sounds (or for an employee with some visual impairment, provide a computer screen that magnifies).

3) Provide more ergonomically designed furniture and  computer interfaces (e.g. voice recognition or dictation software) for employees with back problems or carpal tunnel syndrome.

4) Someone has trouble taking mass transit to work; allow him or her to work slightly different hours (if  the nature of the  job permits) so he or she can avoid rush hour and drive to work.

Other examples abound, but the key point is that  the accomodation cannot too costly, and with it, the employee must be able to do his or her job. If there is no reasonable accomodation which would let an employee do his or her job functions, he or she could have pay reduced, be demoted, be transfered, or even potentially be terminated.

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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