What are my rights to use a cane at my workplace?

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What are my rights to use a cane at my workplace?

I work for the American Red Cross as a collection specialist nurse conducting

blood drive collections. I had been using a cane for stabilization due to arthritis,

mixed connective tissue disease and fibromyalgia. I was also restricted to

standing no more than 15 minutes per hour due to plantar fasciitis, which was

accommodated for the past 10 months. HR now claims that they can no longer

accommodate the standing restriction, nor can they accommodate the use of a

cane during work citing it’s use as a safety issue. I was placed on short term

FMLA until my ability to return to work without the use of the cane and no standing restrictions. Is it legal for them to do this?

Asked on June 3, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

It depends on the nature of your job and the impact of your cane and restriction(s) on the abilty to do your job. The obligation of an employer is to make a "reasonable accommodation." A reasonable accommodation is one that is not too expensive or disruptive for them--which a cane would not be--but which also 1) lets you do the core or important functions of your job and 2) does not expose them to liability.
If the standing restriction significantly impacts your ability to get your job done, or having to use one hand on a cane to stabilize (so you don't have both hands free) does, then they would not have to accommodate you, since the accommodation (the cane) does not let you do the core functions of your job. Or if your use of a cane or instability increases the risk of someone falling (either you or someone tripping on the cane) while holding glass vials, "sharps," or blood samples, etc., then they would not have to accommodate you due to 2)--an increase in their liability.
If however you believe that the use of your cane and your standing restrictions still let you do the job (at more-or-less the expected rate or efficiency--e.g. they do not need to accept having an employee only working half as fast as he/she should) without creating real safety/liability concerns, contact the federal EEOC or your state's equal/civil rights agency about filing a disability-based discrimination complaint.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

It depends on the nature of your job and the impact of your cane and restriction(s) on the abilty to do your job. The obligation of an employer is to make a "reasonable accommodation." A reasonable accommodation is one that is not too expensive or disruptive for them--which a cane would not be--but which also 1) lets you do the core or important functions of your job and 2) does not expose them to liability.
If the standing restriction significantly impacts your ability to get your job done, or having to use one hand on a cane to stabilize (so you don't have both hands free) does, then they would not have to accommodate you, since the accommodation (the cane) does not let you do the core functions of your job. Or if your use of a cane or instability increases the risk of someone falling (either you or someone tripping on the cane) while holding glass vials, "sharps," or blood samples, etc., then they would not have to accommodate you due to 2)--an increase in their liability.
If however you believe that the use of your cane and your standing restrictions still let you do the job (at more-or-less the expected rate or efficiency--e.g. they do not need to accept having an employee only working half as fast as he/she should) without creating real safety/liability concerns, contact the federal EEOC or your state's equal/civil rights agency about filing a disability-based discrimination complaint.


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