I have had the same job for over 15 years. I had a back injury about 5 years ago. My doctor restricted me to no lifting anything over 20 pounds. This was not a problem because my work only required me to lift over 20 pounds rarely and when I had to some else did it for me. Now they are saying that they are "restructuring" all of the jobs in my area and now I need to do all of the duties for all of the positions we used to only occasionally rotate into. They have now put me on a leave of absence saying that I can't do all the "essential" functions of my job. I don't understand this because it is not an "essential" function. Now I have no income. They say I have to stay on leave until they find me another position. This is all out of the blue.
The discrimination laws require the employer and employee to engage in a "conversation" designed to determine if the employee can perform the essential job functions with reasonable accommodation. In general, an employer cannot simply restructure your job duties and then claim you cannot fulfill them without having that "conversation." I would definitely seek an attorney consultation here sooner rather than later.
I provided this response for informational purposes only, and nothing stated should be construed as legal advice specific to your situation since I have not been provided with all the facts and details. If you would like to consult directly with me, you would have to contact me privately for a consultation. Even then, I am not your attorney unless you and I sign an agreement to that effect. I am not licensed to practice law in any state other than California and this response is not intended to be considered as a solicitation of legal services. Please consider how much you have paid for this response before relying on it to determine your legal rights and obligations.
Based on the limited information in your post, it appears the employer is not following the law related to how it is supposed to treat you. If they have been able to accommodate you for so many years, the company will be hard-pressed to argue that continuing to do so will be an undue hardship - the standard they will need to prove to justify this new position.
It would be prudent for you to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site in the Find a Lawyer section, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law work offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Good luck to you.
This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.
An employee who has a qualified disability, which could include a chronic back condition, can ask the employer for a reasonable accommodation to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of their job. The employer has a duty to attempt to accommodate the employee, as long as the available accommodations do not create an undue hardship on the employer. If lifting over 20 pounds has not been an essential function of the job, in the past, restructuring the job now and claiming you cannot perform this job, raises questions about the sincerity of the job restructuring.
Of course, may other facts need to be evaluated before a legal opinion can be offered. But you have good reason to question what the employer has done. You should consult with an employment law attorney to obtain a more informed legal opinion and to discuss what your options are.
They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.
What you have described sounds like a potential discrimination case. It's also not an unusual tactic some employer's use to attempt to avoid having to accommodate and employee. I suggest you contact an employment lawyer immediately to help you get past this problem. You should be able to work now and earn and income and not have to wait until another position becomes available.
Many of us offer free consultations so give a lawyer a call.
Best of luck.
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