Mrs. Smith has been working for ABC Company for 25 years. She is a loyal, hard-working employee; however, she is 64 years old, and of course, she is unable to do all of the things she used to be able to do at work. Mrs. Smith’s coworkers have noticed some problems and some areas where Mrs. Smith needs a little extra help, and they are happy to pitch in because they really like Mrs. Smith and don’t mind helping her. They also know that, if they don’t help her, the job may not get completed, and they don’t want to be responsible for that or to get Mrs. Smith into trouble!
Federal guidelines are in place for employers to not only protect their employees from injury but also to protect themselves from the costly consequences of employees getting injured. EEOC and ADA both stipulate that employers are not required to hire or retain individuals who are unsafe to perform the essential functions of their job. Although the employer’s intent may be job retention for Mrs. Smith, it may be at the risk of having her injured, or worse yet, permanently disabled. Furthermore, turning a blind eye to some observable difficulties in performing job tasks may put other employees at risk of injury in their attempt to help the unsafe co-worker.
So, What to Do?
A few things need to be in place before setting a policy or protocol for dealing with these types of situations:
- An accurate job analysis, listing the true physical demands of each job. The job description should list the job specific tasks and what is required to do each task physically. (e.g., “Employee will lift a 160 lb. keg and place it on a 39” shelf”)
- Objective Information about Employee’s Physical Abilities. Once a “trigger” is identified (i.e., an employee either mentions a problem doing part of their job or is observed as having difficulty in doing the job, such as limping or having questionable balance while climbing stairs), the employee is asked to provide information about whether they are safe to perform all of their job tasks. It is important to obtain objective information about that employee’s physical abilities and determine whether they match the job requirements (e.g., a Fit for Duty test).
What If a Problem Is Identified By Fit for Duty Testing?
It is NOT a worker’s comp injury if a problem is identified. There has been no injury at that point, so it is up to the employer and employee to discuss the problem. Some things to consider:
- Is it something that can be resolved through health insurance or FMLA benefits?
- How about a work conditioning program to improve strength, endurance or eliminate or reduce a physical deficit?
- Give the employee a deadline for “re-testing”. Perhaps the problem can be resolved during that time and allow the employee to return to regular job duties if he or she is capable of completing the re-test.
- Could an ADA accommodation process be initiated?
- If no alternatives are available to allow an employee to return to work safely, then termination may be the last resort. For more information about fit for duty testing, work conditioning, post offer testing, job analysis, and other services to facilitate “stay at work” programs or “return to work” programs, contact Job Ready Services at 919-256-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our website at www.jobreadyservices.com.
Having a job analysis and a functional testing program in place will allow employers to deal with employees’ safety issues “across the board” in an objective, fair manner. This does not mean employers must stop being “Mr. Nice Guy” – it may mean they will be “Mr. Nicer, Fairer, More Objective Guy” with concrete data to back up their decisions.