Q: An employee injured off the job would like to return to work, but we’re concerned about her safety and her ability to do the job. How should we proceed? We’re a small employer and not subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
A: In this case, if you have a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence (such as her own description of the injury and what it will take to recover), that the employee's ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by the injury or that the employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition, you may consider requiring a doctor's release prior to allowing the employee to return to work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disability-related inquiries or medical examinations may only be made when they are "job-related and consistent with business necessity.” It’s important to ensure that you’re considering the specific job the employee has. For example, where an employee has a safety sensitive role or one that requires physical labor, there would typically be more justification in requesting a doctor’s release than where the employee sits at a desk for the entire day.
If you’ve determined that legitimate concerns about the employee’s ability to do her job exist, we would recommend that you let her know that you will need a doctor's release for her to come back to work. You can explain your concerns about her ability to do the job and the potential for additional harm caused by her returning to work too soon.
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