Employer Failed to Show it Provided Reasonable Accommodation to Injured Nurse
August 21, 2017 | Strategic Insights for Ambulatory Care
Ruling in an employment discrimination case, the New Jersey supreme court held that a healthcare facility that fired a nurse after she was injured on the job bears the burden of proving that no reasonable accommodation exists that will allow the nurse to continue in her position before firing her. The nurse initially injured her shoulder in 2007 while positioning a patient in bed, and underwent surgery and physical therapy. In 2008, she injured the same shoulder while lifting the legs of a 300 lb. patient and again required surgery. She returned to duty six months later. In 2010, she sustained her last injury when an obese patient fell as he was moving from a stretcher to a bed. The nurse leapt onto the bed, grabbed the patient's shoulders, and pulled the patient onto the bed and on top of herself. A magnetic resonance imaging scan found a cervical spine injury. She underwent surgery and returned to work four months later on “light duty. " Although her physician had cleared her to return to her full-time nursing duties, the employer, overseeing her workers' compensation claim, instructed her to report to a certain consultant for a functional capacity evaluation. The consultant's report indicated she could return to work in her previous job capacity, but with certain “altered duties," and that she would require assistance with handling loads of more than 50 lbs. and when transferring patients. She was reexamined by her physician who concurred that she could return to work, with restrictions on lifting and transferring patients.