“You can choose your friends but you [sure] can’t choose your family,” Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird. Add health care providers to those you can choose. But when you chose them, you are stuck with their medical opinions. Two plaintiffs learned this lesson when they tried to discredit the work restrictions their health care providers had imposed.
In Hohn v. BNSF Railway Company, (8th Cir. February 28, 2013), the employer placed the plaintiff on leave and told him to have his eyes examined. His optometrist diagnosed him with an advanced stage of a degenerative eye disease that causes tunnel vision and night blindness, and for which there is no known cure. One of his doctor’s restrictions was that he not work in any job that requires more than 15 degrees of visual field. Plaintiff worked in a 360 degree environment. The employer did not return him to work. At trial on his accommodation claim, the plaintiff claimed he could do and had been doing tasks that exceed his doctor’s restrictions. In denying a new trial, the court said the plaintiff selected his doctor and did not submit any medical evidence to contradict his doctor’s restrictions. “The ADA does not require an employer to permit an employee to perform a job function that the employee’s physician has forbidden,” the court said.
In Wulff v. Sentara Healthcare, Inc. (4th Cir. March 4, 2013), plaintiff’s health care provider gave plaintiff work restrictions, which she gave to her employer. When the employer said it could not accommodate those restrictions, plaintiff claimed her health care provider overstated her restrictions and that they were misleading. In affirming summary judgment for the employer, the court said that the plaintiff submitted the form without taking any steps to clarify or correct the alleged misstatements and that her employer was justified in abiding by the restrictions on this form.
Both decisions are logical and welcome. An employer must rely on the restrictions imposed by the employee’s own health care provider to determine whether it could accommodate those restrictions. Both cases place the burden on the plaintiff to take steps to clarify or challenge the restrictions imposed by his or her health care provider.