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Could an ADA ruling on obesity affect future work comp claims?

Employment law appears to be evolving once again. In an Americans with Disabilities Act claim in Missouri, an employee is challenging his termination as being illegal because it was purportedly based on his obesity, instead of his performance in the business arena. Specifically, a federal judge denied the employer’s motion to dismiss, which cleared the way for the terminated employee to bring his claim.

Naturally, the employee has to prevail at summary judgment in order to continue his case, but the ruling could have an effect on future workers’ compensation claims. 

For instance, one of the issues commonly seen in workers’ comp cases is whether the employee can return to the same job, or whether he or she is suited for a different line of employment. In some instances, an employee is considered to be permanently injured and is unable to return to work in any capacity.

If this occurs and it is determined that an employee had a pre-existing condition (e.g. obesity) that led to a permanent injury suffered at work, a workers’ compensation judge may be unlikely to award the minimum benefits knowing that the employee may not ever enter the workforce again. Also, if obesity is viewed as a disability, it may be easier for injured employees to claim that they are unable to (or not ready to) return to work in a regular capacity.

Ultimately, it may leave employers with the responsibility of dealing with work injuries, as well as related conditions that may not have anything to do with the work relationship with the injured employee.

Source: “Obesity as a disability – how this may affect workers’ comp claims,” J. Bradley Young, May 2, 2014

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