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Jul 14, 2016

Disability accommodation requests require a careful analysis of essential job functions


A recent disability discrimination ruling highlights the importance of not jumping to conclusions in evaluating essential job functions.

A recent disability discrimination ruling highlights the importance of not jumping to conclusions in evaluating essential job functions. A pharmaceutical sales representative gradually lost most of her eyesight, and could no longer drive a car. She had no set office and her job involved traveling and meeting with doctors and other medical providers. The employee had requested special computer software and a driver to take her on sales calls. The company provided the software, but refused to provide a driver.

Providing a Driver: A Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?

The company claimed that driving was an essential function of the job. A federal appeals court disagreed, stating that traveling, rather than driving, might be a better way to describe this essential function, and a jury should decide the question (Stephenson v. Pfizer, Inc., 4th Cir, March 2016).

Evaluating Essential Job Functions under the ADA: Consider Alternate Methods of Accomplishing the Task

When evaluating essential job functions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), be careful not to mix them up with the typical methods of performing those functions. For example, suppose workers normally lift 50-lb. boxes and carry them while walking to a counter 30 feet away. The essential function of the job is the transporting of the boxes, not necessarily the physical lifting and carrying. If an employee’s disability interferes with the ability to lift and carry the boxes, then the question that needs to be asked is whether a reasonable accommodation exists that would allow the employee to transport the box. Perhaps the employee could use a pneumatic lift with rollers to raise and move the box. By considering alternative methods of accomplishing the task, you may be able to reasonably accommodate a worker while still ensuring the essential functions get done.

Disability Accommodation Requests: Tips for Employers

It’s not necessarily enough to just look at the job description. Carefully consider whether a task or activity really is “essential” to performing the job. For more information, check out these Vigilant Legal Guides, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process” and “At a Glance: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”.

For additional blogs about disability employment laws, accommodation, and compliance, see all related posts.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.