Accommodations for Back Injuries

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Question:

I work in an office, doing data entry, filing, keyboarding, paperwork, and similar tasks. I was recently in a car accident and injured my back. Although I am mobile, it hurts me to be in any position for a long period of time. Lifting, reaching, and pulling are also painful. My job doesn't require heavy lifting or physical labor, but sitting at my desk, pulling and replacing files, and even reaching for necessary items on my desk are all difficult now. I'm hopeful that my condition will improve. In the meantime, are there any reasonable accommodations my employer can provide to help me out? 

Answer:

Back injuries are one of the most common workplace disabilities. This means employers have plenty of experience accommodating this problem, and a variety of assistive devices are available to help employees with tasks made painful by injured backs (and necks). 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation if your condition legally qualifies as a disability. The ADA doesn't categorially define certain conditions as disabilities. Instead, employers and courts must look at how a person's physical or mental impairment affects the ability to perform major life activities, including major bodily functions. If you are substantially limited in your ability to walk, lift, push, pull, care for yourself, or engage in other activities, you likely have a disability as defined by the ADA. 

For jobs that require heavy lifting (and sometimes lead to back injuries in the first place), machinery and equipment might be required to accommodate an injury like yours. Assistive lifting devices, mechanized carts, and hoists may be used to assist someone in, for example, a warehouse position that's heavy on the manual labor. For an office position, it may seem that no accommodations are possible because your job is already light on physical labor. But reaching, lifting, pulling, pushing, keyboarding, and other repetitive tasks can all take a toll, especially if you are already injured. And there are accommodations available. 

For example, if it is painful to be in one position for any length of time, you could request a sit/stand desk or a desk that reclines to different angles. For reaching across your desk, a quick visit to a home improvement or organization store could yield some solutions, such as a lazy Susan to hold frequently used supplies or an expandable organizer that will allow you to keep everything within easy reach. For files, a low seat or stool might be helpful. 

In addition to devices, changes in your schedule might help. For example, your employer could allow you to take a short break every hour to stretch and move around. If your pain is worse some days, you might take time off or work from home. And, your employer should give you time off to attend medical appointments, physical therapy, and so on. Another thing to consider is a close-in parking space, if walking long distances is difficult. 

You can find many more accommodation ideas at the website of the Job Accommodation Network

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