Several important court decisions and regulatory changes affecting medical issues around the workplace have recently been announced.
Under a new federal regulation, employers may request permission to deactivate airbags for employees for medical reasons. Conditions such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which make it difficult for the person to maintain a safe distance from the airbag, are covered. Information, authorization forms, and the text of the regulation can be found at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web site or by calling.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The EEOC has filed suit against two employers in Texas who use pre-employment or pre-placement back x-rays to screen prospective employees. Individuals with abnormal x-rays, but not apparent limitations, were denied employment, which the EEOC charges is discrimination based on a perceived or potential disability.
“In the course of, and rising out of”
The courts recently upheld an Industrial Commission finding that an employee injured while wrestling a vending machine was not entitled to workers’ compensation. The employee placed money in a drink machine, which did not produce the desired soda. In an attempt to right this wrong, the man rocked the machine, causing it to tip over on him and breaking his leg. The worker argued that the injury was compensable, and further asserted that the employer should have repaired the machine so that the injury would not have happened. The court ruled that the injury did not meet the test of arising out of his employment. Carrick v. Riser Foods, Inc. (1996)A New Jersey case (Money v. Coin Depot Corp, 1997) dealt with an armed truck security guard who carried a gun as part of his job. Playing “Russian Roulette” over the protests of his co-workers, he shot himself in the head and was killed. His family applied for benefits, contending that the death arose in the course of his employment. A compensation judge agreed with the family and awarded benefits on the basis that the requirement that the man carry a gun made the accident compensable. The decision overturned on appeal where it was held that his personal behavior was “totally unrelated to the risks inherent in the normal conduct of the employer’s business.”
Alcohol and Employment
An employer permitted an alcoholic employee to return to work based upon a mutual agreement under which the employee would submit to urine alcohol testing. A positive test for alcohol would be grounds for dismissal. After a positive test and termination, the employee charged the employer with discriminating against him as an alcoholic. The ADA does protect alcoholism as a disability. The Court however, ruled that the discharge was not based on the man’s disability (alcoholism), but on his violation prior agreement regarding abstention from alcohol. Mararri v. WCI Steel, Inc. (1997) The importance of obtaining objective proof of intoxication was demonstrated in another New Jersey case. An employee alleged consumed a half-gallon of vodka the night before work, and two beers during his morning break. He subsequently fell 18 feet to the ground. Although an expert witness estimated that his blood alcohol level would have been 0.29%, one of his co-workers stated that he had “looked and acted normally”. The court held the employer did not prove that his intoxication was the sole cause of the accident because the employee alleged that a hazardous work condition also existed. The employer also lacked evidence to refute the appearance that the man was not intoxicated. This is frequently true in the case of chronic alcohol abusers. Breath alcohol test or a fitness for duty exam may be required to demonstrate intoxication. Warner v. Vanco Manufacturing, Inc. (1997).
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