Back and Spinal Injuries

Back and spinal injuries can be extremely debilitating. The spinal cord is made up of nerves that transmit messages between the brain and the body. Injury to the spinal cord can cause paralysis and can result from bullet or stab wounds, car or sports accident, or a fall from a significant height. The back includes the bones and joints of the spine, the discs that separate the vertebrae, the muscles and ligaments that hold the spine together. Back pain can occur from the neck to the tailbone and can be caused by acute injury or from everyday wear and tear. Acute injuries to the back include strain or sprain, fracture to the spinal cord, herniated disc or compressed nerves in the lower back. An individual with a back or spinal injury is considered “disabled” under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) when the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities of the individual. Further, an individual with a disability is considered to have experienced unlawful discrimination when an employer is aware of such an impairment, or the employee is perceived to have such an impairment and an employer takes adverse employment action.

Injuries to the back can happen at any time, including during recreational or sports activity, home projects, or doing work-related activity. Back injuries are most likely to occur when an individual is doing something that they do not often do, such as yard work or lifting heavy objects. Injuries to the back can be minor, caused by tripping, falling, or excessive twisting, or major, caused by car accidents, falls from significant heights, direct blows to the back, or penetrating wounds. Back and spinal injuries have the potential to affect how an individual performs at work, or the ability to complete the essential functions of his or her position without accommodation. However, if an employee is “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA, and is able to complete the essential functions of his or her position with reasonable accommodation, the employer is required to provide such accommodations.

Individuals with back or spinal injuries face various types of employment discrimination, especially when working with an insensitive employer who does not recognize the debilitating nature of a back injury. Discrimination can occur in the hiring process, and it is important for individuals with back or spinal injuries attempting to reenter the workforce to know that employers are forbidden from inquiring about medical conditions, treatments, or use of medication during the interview and cannot require a medical examination as part of the application process. Similarly, if a back or spinal impairment are discovered in a post-offer required medical examination, an employer cannot discharge based solely on this impairment. Once hired, employees with back impairment can also face discrimination in the workplace, such as a change in responsibilities effectuating a demotion, an actual demotion, dismissal, or be continually passed over for promotions.

Individuals with back and/or spinal injuries who live on Long Island, either in Nassau or Suffolk County, or in the New York metro area, including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, whose employers have failed to provide accommodations, or have taken adverse employment action because of the individual’s injuries, should contact a New York disability attorney to assert their rights.

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