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Essential Functions are, well, Essential to Good Job Descriptions

April 23rd, 2013

Under the Americans with Disabilities Acts, employees and job seekers may request “accommodations” to perform the job according to their own abilities.  For example, a sight-impaired employee may request a magnifying terminal to perform data entry duties.  Employers may be sued for failing to accommodate such requests.

The best practice, and the best defense in a law suit, is a well-written job description which defines “essential” job functions.  (Not all duties in the job description can be essential.  Nor can “other duties as assigned” define essential functions.)  Generally speaking, the essential functions are those duties which are central to the job.  Others, called “marginal” functions, may be equally important to the business but may be performed by a wide range of employees.  It is possible, according to the Office of Equal Opportunity, that a task performed “less than 2% of the time” may still be an essential function, based on the skills required and the availability of other employees with such skills or ” because of the serious consequences that would occur if the employee failed to perform it.”

A recent court decision heard the case of a Minneapolis manager who sustained an eye injury and could no longer be certified by the DOT to drive delivery trucks.  This was a longstanding requirement of his job description.  He argued that others were available to drive the trucks.  However, the 8th Circuit Court disagreed.  Under the ADA, the court opined, “an employer may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee, but employers are generally are not required to reallocate the “essential functions” of the employee’s job to other workers.”  The employee might have had a better shot at eliminating the DOT requirement from his job if he requested it BEFORE he needed the accommodation.

Fine Print

The moral of this story: it is better for the employer to document the essential functions of any job or else random calamities may define the job for the employer.

 

 

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