Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

May 18, 2015

Does temporarily changing a job function make it non-essential?

Disability 

An employer has successfully defended its decision to terminate a supervisor who was required to drive for his job but lost his driving privileges, after he refused to accept an offer of reassignment.

An employer has successfully defended its decision to terminate a supervisor, who was required to drive for his job but lost his driving privileges, after he refused to accept an offer of reassignment. The long-term employee suffered a seizure and lost his driver’s license until he was seizure-free for six months. The employer temporarily accommodated him by shifting some of his duties and changing the way the job tasks were performed. Because of a second seizure, this accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continued for almost a year before the employee was cleared to drive again. Six months after resuming full duties, the employee suffered a third seizure and once again lost his driving privileges.

The employer offered him a transfer to another job at a nearby facility that did not require the employee to drive. The employee did not report for work or apply for medical leave, and was terminated for failure to report. The court ruled that the employer did not have to permanently change essential job functions even though it had done so on a temporary basis. The job required the employee to be out of the office approximately 50 percent of the time, and the temporary accommodation had required other employees to assume additional duties and work additional hours which was not required under the ADA (Minnihan v. Mediacom Communications, 8th Cir, March 2015).

Tips: Be cautious when deciding that you no longer need to make an accommodation for an employee. The situation must be evaluated on the facts and circumstances of each individual employee’s situation. Review Vigilant’s Legal Guides, “Assigning Modified Duty (Transitional) Positions” and “ADA: Job Reassignment” or check with your Vigilant employment attorney for assistance on handling requests for accommodation by employees with disabilities.

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