Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Jun 05, 2013

Employer does not have to accommodate disability that alters essential job function

Labor Relations 

In this case a long term, union-represented employee bid on a job opening for which she was the senior bidder.

In this case a long term, union-represented employee bid on a job opening for which she was the senior bidder. The main issue was a restriction which prevented the employee from lifting 20 or more pounds, which was an essential function of this job. The company employed an occupational health nurse and an ergonomic technical specialist to review the position and verify that the lifting requirement was indeed essential. The employee suggested a coworker could lift heavy objects for her, but the company maintained that this was not a reasonable accommodation and amounted to an undue hardship to the business. In agreeing with the employer, the court was clear that requiring another employee to perform an essential function is not “reasonable” (Majors v. General Electric Co., 7th Cir., April 2013).

Tips: If this case had occurred in the Ninth Circuit, the employer might have gotten into trouble for not exploring additional accommodations. For example, could the employee use a machine to lift the heavy objects? It’s wise to consider a range of accommodation options, to minimize the risk of a court second-guessing your efforts later.

One thing this employer did right is having clearly defined job descriptions. The court relied heavily on the essential functions listed in the job description. For help drafting job descriptions and conducting job analyses, review our Model Forms, “Job Analysis” (873) and “ADA: Analysis of the Individual’s Ability” (989), and our Legal Guide, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process” (1078). Vigilant members also have access to a large database of customizable job descriptions through the CCH AnswersNow section of our member website. To learn more about how you can have ongoing access to these resources and more, contact Vigilant.

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.