Can employers keep an RN from returning to work because of a restriction on lifting?

By | 2022-02-11T11:35:05-05:00 May 17th, 2010|0 Comments


Dear Nancy,

Can employers keep an RN from returning to work because of a restriction on lifting? They say all nurses have to be able to lift and carry at least 51 pounds or they can’t work. Because an off-work injury, I was restricted to lifting 20 pounds.


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Mary,

There are many legal aspects to your question, but a few can be generally responded to. First and foremost, it is important for you to know that an employer’s established physical requirements for a position are for the protection of the employer and the employee, if properly adopted. If an RN’s job requires the transfer of patients, including lifting patients and moving patients from bed to chair, as examples, nurse employees have to be strong enough to do so. The nurse also must do so using good body mechanics, lifting and moving aids, if applicable, and so on. You might want to visit the National Institute for Workplace Health and Safety’s website ( and review some of its recommendations for lifting and for body mechanics. On the home page of the website, click on Industries and Occupations on the left-hand side, then click on Health Care. The entire next page is dedicated to safe lifting and ergonomic matters in the healthcare setting.

The second issue to consider with a lifting requirement, or any other physical requirement for a job, is that it is essential to the position. If, for example, the lifting of 50 pounds was required for a nurse case manager who does not care for patients of any kind, then one could question that requirement. Or, if an unfounded requirement tends to eliminate certain individuals from working or applying for a position (e.g. women), it might be discriminatory.

Your best approach would be to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works with employees in order for the attorney to evaluate your specific situation, this particular requirement, and how best to handle any challenge to it, should a challenge be possible.



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