Is there ever a time when an employer is permitted to keep and employee from following their doctor’s orders?

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Is there ever a time when an employer is permitted to keep and employee from following their doctor’s orders?

After breaking my toe and then developing soft tissue damage in both feet, my podiatrist told me that I have to wear sneakers, specifically Nike or New Balance, permanently. Last year, he wrote a note that I presented to my HR Department and they told me that the company has a strict dress code policy and I would have to find shoes that don’t look like sneakers. I didn’t press the issue and now the damage in my feet has progressed. Now, 2 years later, my podiatrist suggested I try submitting a note again. The note states that I should be permitted to wear sneakers to work permanently. This time I had supervisor present the note to HR and he was told that ‘they’ have to talk about it. Three3 days have passed and I have not been given an answer.

Asked on April 26, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

There are times when they can prevent you from following doctor's instructions, but this is probably not one of them. An employer must make "reasonable" accommodations to medical conditions. If the change in policy, etc. would be dangerous, too expensive, or too disruptive, the employer does not have to do it. An example would be, say that you work at a construction site where steel-toed books are needed for safety, or are a waiter at a high-end catering hall, where the customers pay for a wait staff to be dressed to the nines...in those cases, sneakers at work would  be unreasonable. But if it's only an in-office or in-retail-store policy, then it's not reasonable to deny you sneakers for health reasons; in those cases, not accommodating you would likely be considered to be disability-based discrimination and would be illegal, since there is no real negative consequence to allowing the sneakers. In that case, you could contact the NJ Division on Civil Rights (DRC) or federal EEOC to file a complaint.


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