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Returning to Work with an Injury or Disability? Know Your Rights

If you are returning to work after taking an injury or disability leave, it is important to understand what accommodations you are entitled to.

In September 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA). In January 2009, those amendments went into effect and have since had a significant impact on the ways in which employers are required to treat disabled workers. Since the ADA is a federal law, it trumps state workers' compensation laws and lays out the minimum protection required for disabled workers. New York workers' compensation laws can add to those rights, but cannot detract from them.

One of the main consequences of the ADAAA is that it increased the amount of workers who are covered by the ADA, and, therefore, more workers are thus entitled to receive "reasonable accommodations" from their employers; including those who have been injured on the job.

In general, a "reasonable accommodation" is defined as "any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." More specifically, a reasonable accommodation can include job restructuring, a modified work schedule, accessibility to work facilities, reassignment to a different position, and the aid of or modification of equipment.

The other main change that the ADAAA made was to require employers to make disability determinations without regard to "mitigating measures" such as medication, prosthetics and assistive technology.

The result of both these changes is that your employer needs to make a greater effort to collaborate with you in assessing what reasonable accommodations you might need in order to return to work successfully and to make sure that those needs are met by all supervisors. Employers must also allow you to return to work even if you are currently not able to do it at "full duty."

If you feel that you have been discriminated against due to a disability upon returning to work, the first step you must take is to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You cannot file a lawsuit of your own against your employer unless you have gone through the EEOC process first. However, it is critical that you speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney first, to ensure that your complaint has the greatest chances of success in the long-run.

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