Many New Jersey workers who are dealing with temporary or permanent disabilities have questions about whether they can take time off work, and still be able to go back to work after their leave. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Family and Medical Leave Act provide job protection for New Jersey employees who need to take leave due to a pregnancy, disability, or medical condition. In addition, the New Jersey Family Leave Act provides job protection – and benefits – to eligible employees who need to take time off to care for a family member. Montclair and several other towns in New Jersey now also have paid sick leave, so that employees can be paid when they cannot work because of their own illness or doctor appointment, or that of a family member.
The answer to this question really depends on what your healthcare provider advises you to do. Many of us have heard of employers “catching” employees who engage in strenuous activities while they are off work and collecting disability or worker’s compensation. Some employers or insurance companies even use private investigators to watch employees who are out on leave, to see whether the workers are faking injuries. Because of this, some employees who are temporarily off work because of a disability or medical condition wonder whether they are allowed to exercise while they are out on disability. This depends on the situation. While a doctor may advise against strenuous exercise for someone who is recovering from a serious car accident, in another case, the healthcare provider may advise the employee to do light exercise, and/or prescribe physical therapy. A physician or therapist treating an employee who has anxiety or depression may advise the employee to exercise regularly and strenuously. Employees who are out on leave due to disabilities or medical conditions should consult with their healthcare providers to determine the appropriate level of activity, and following the advice given. Asking the healthcare provider to note their advice in their records can also be helpful, in case the employer mistakenly decides that an employee who is out for a jog must be faking it.
Again, the answer to this question depends on many factors. Many employees believe that being out on leave for a disability, pregnancy, or medical condition means that they cannot be fired for any reason. This is not the case. There are a few circumstances in which terminating an employee who is out on medical leave may be warranted, such as: an employee did something at work for which they could be fired, and the employer legitimately learned about it after the leave began; or the employer’s business went through a financial disaster during the leave and had to lay off many employees. The laws mentioned above provide job protection for employees who need to take leave, and provide that employers cannot discriminate against employees who take disability or maternity leave. This means that employers cannot fire employees because they are disabled or pregnant, and they cannot fire employees because the employees need to take a reasonable amount of leave due to their disability, pregnancy, or medical condition.
By Jennifer Vorih, Esq. and Ty Hyderally, Esq.