I suffered permanent damage to my back in a car accident last year. My doctor has released me to return to work, but my job requires lifting boxes that weigh up to 50 pounds, which I can no longer do. I've asked to be transferred to a desk position in my department. I've done this work before, so I know I can do it. Does my employer have to reassign me to the desk position?
It sounds like you have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for which you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation. Whether you have the right to transfer to a different job depends on whether any positions are open and how your employer handles job openings, among other things. Here are the rules:
Typically, an employee is considered "qualified" for a job under the ADA only if he or she can perform the job's essential functions, with or without accommodation. However, the ADA also says that reassignment to a different position might be a reasonable accommodation, if an employee can't do the current job. Like all reasonable accommodations, transfer is required only if it would not create undue hardship.
An employee is entitled to reassignment as a reasonable accommodation only if there is an open position, for which the employee is qualified, and which would not disrupt the employer's seniority system.
As you can see, the facts of your workplace dictate whether you are entitled to a transfer. Is there a desk job available? Do you hold all the necessary qualifications for the job? And, would putting you in the job require the employer to upend an established, consistently applied seniority system? The answers to these questions will determine whether your employer is required to reassign you as a reasonable accommodation for your disability.