by Scott M. Wich
Originally published: July 6, 2017
At times, human resource professionals must base employment decisions on assumptions when needed information is unavailable. Care must be taken to avoid relying on assumptions, however, where a legal obligation requires an employer to attempt to gather information. As recently concluded by an Iowa appeals court, unilateral conclusions reached about an employee's medical limitations can lead to significant liability—$900,000 in this case.
John Vetter was an employee with the Department of Natural Resources for the State of Iowa. He suffered a back injury in 2011 and was placed on a leave of absence. In January 2012, he returned to light-duty work. He gradually resumed his normal job duties but still required assistance from co-workers in moving heavy objects.
In September 2012, Vetter underwent a functional capacity exam (FCE). The results of the exam set forth Vetter's limitations on activities such as sitting, standing, walking, climbing and bending each day. It also established a permanent restriction on squatting. Several months later, the Iowa workers' compensation administrator sent Vetter's employer a list of the FCE restrictions and asked if it could accommodate them.