From injury to insult: when injured workers face discrimination

Returning to work after an injury can be a struggle. You may not be able to work at the pace you were used to right away, and you may need accommodations to perform certain tasks.

As we've written about before, you shouldn't rush the process of returning to work, but you also should make sure your doctor and employer are on the same page about your readiness to work and any accommodations you might need.

In theory, your employer should try to make your return to work after an injury as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, some workers may face discrimination - or even wrongful termination - after coming back to work after an injury.

Because of this, it's important to know what protections you have under federal and state law.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The main federal law protecting employees with disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you could perform your job with accommodations, your employer is required under the ADA to provide you with these accommodations. Federal law also protects you against being fired, refused promotions or otherwise discriminated against because of your need for accommodations.

The ADA applies to individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including chronic conditions and permanent disabilities as well as short-term disabilities such as broken bones. Many mental health conditions are also covered under the law. An employment attorney can help you determine how the law's protections apply to your situation and whether your employer may be in violation of it.

Pennsylvania Human Relations Act

In addition to protections under the ADA, Pennsylvanians are also protected under the state's Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination based on real or perceived physical or mental disability. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission enforces the law. Employees may file complaints with the commission if they believe they've been discriminated against.

When you're ready to return to work after an injury, good communication with your doctor and employer is important to make sure everyone is aware of any accommodations you need. And remember that if your employer balks at providing these accommodations or treats you unfairly, you are protected under the law.

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