How does the ADA affect your workers’ compensation claim?
Businesses in Georgia and throughout the United States must comply with specific laws that govern both how people with occupational injuries and disabilities are treated during the hiring process and when they are returning to work. While the majority of employers are already aware of their responsibilities regarding Georgia workers’ compensation, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has recently changed a few things.
First, you must understand that Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act and the ADA are 2 separate sets of laws that don’t specifically mention each other. However, the ADA can influence how workers’ compensation laws and benefits are carried out.
Understanding how these 2 separate laws work together can help employers make sure that they are in compliance, while ensuring that employees don’t face discrimination when they attempt to return to work after an occupational injury or illness.
What is the ADA?
The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 as a piece of civil rights legislation that was meant to prevent discrimination and provide people with disabilities many of the same opportunities that non-disabled members of our society enjoy. While the ADA addresses multiple aspects of daily life, employers often inquire about how the ADA and workers’ compensation affect each other.
The ADA not only regulates hiring practices, but there are also times when a current employee who sustains an injury may be classified as a person with a disability under these laws. While the injured worker is still eligible for state-mandated workers’ compensation benefits, they may also fall under the guidelines issued by the ADA that protect them from discrimination.
Who qualifies under the ADA?
The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who has either “a physical or mental impairment that limits at least 1 or more of their major life activities in a substantial way.” This person must also have a record of the impairment. They also may be considered disabled if they are “regarded as having an impairment that restricts major activities.”
Do all occupational injuries count as a disability according to the ADA?
The part of the definition that mentions “regarded as” is the area where things sometimes get confusing for employers and injured workers. This statement is meant to provide protection for people who have substantial occupational injuries.
Not all injuries that occur at work would fall under the ADA. For instance, someone who sprains their ankle would still likely be able to perform their duties as a typist who works while sitting down at a desk.
It’s also possible that someone could sustain an injury that doesn’t limit their normal daily activities at home but prevents them from performing their job duties. In this case, the injury might qualify as disabling. At this point, the ADA would apply to someone who was returning to work or seeking employment.
When are medical exams allowed to be requested by an employer during the hiring process?
While the ADA is meant to prevent discrimination, it does potentially put an employer at risk of having more frequent workers’ compensation claims due to the increased likelihood of having someone with a prior injury or disability in the work environment.
However, employers are still not allowed to request a medical exam or report during the pre-hiring process. Instead, a medical exam may be requested after a conditional job offer has already been made. It’s also important to understand that the same medical exam should be required of any other employees who are entering positions within the same job category.
When can employers ask disability-related questions or request a medical exam after an injury?
The ADA doesn’t limit employers from being able to ask pertinent questions regarding an occupational injury after it happens or before an employee returns to work. However, there are still a few guidelines here that employers must follow.
The disability-related questions must be specifically asked with the sole purpose of assessing whether or not the person’s occupational injury could create an undue hardship or significant risk in the workplace according to the job duties and position.
If an employee who is returning to work after an injury (or one who is in the hiring process) requests reasonable accommodations, then an employer may also ask for documentation to demonstrate their entitlement to that accommodation.
An employer also has the right to ask questions to assess their potential responsibilities regarding a workers’ compensation claim. Once again, the ADA and workers’ compensation claims are influenced by each other by making it clear that these questions or requests for medical exams can’t go beyond covering only the occupational injury that occurred along with how it relates to the benefits.
Unrelated exams or questions aren’t allowed and could fall under the possibility of being viewed as discrimination.
How do the ADA’s confidentiality requirements affect an employee’s medical information?
Employers must keep their employees’ medical records in a separate file in a secure location that is apart from their other employment records. An employee’s medical information can only be shared in specific situations, such as when a supervisor must know about the need for restrictions or accommodations. Employers may also use the information about an occupational injury for insurance purposes or to share with the state workers’ compensation offices.
Dealing with an occupational injury is hard enough without having to worry about your benefits or ability to return to work. If you’ve been injured on the job, then you may have rights that are protected beneath the ADA as well as Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws.
If you feel as though you might be the victim of discrimination or unethical practices on the part of your employer or a hiring manager, then reach out to Gerber & Holder Law today to find out more about how your case is impacted by these important employment laws.