What are Essential Job Functions in ADA Cases?
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) aims to allow people with disabilities to have equal opportunities to join the workforce. First, the law prohibits discrimination, harassment, or retaliation against applicants or employees with real or perceived disabilities. Additionally,the law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities if such accommodations would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their job and would not cause undue hardship to the employer.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor that formed the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN provides information and educational materials for
employees to know their rights and for employers to better understand the reasonable accommodation concept. According to JAN, some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
· Making work facilities accessible for the employee;
· Restructuring jobs;
· Allowing modified or part-time work hours;
· Providing interpreters or qualified readers;
· Adapting training programs and materials, tests, or other policies;
· Modifying existing equipment or acquiring new equipment;
· Reassigning the employee to a vacant position
What are essential job functions?
The law defines “essential job functions” as the fundamental duties an employee in that particular position would be able to perform. If an employee cannot perform such essential job functions, an employer is not required to remove any essential functions as part of an accommodation.
In a recent case, an employee with Sjogren’s Syndrome worked for IBM. Due to her illness, she had to leave work by 5:00 p.m., so she had requested that she only work 45 hours per week, in contrast to other employees at her level who worked 60 to 70 hours per week. IBM approved the modified work schedule, however her supervisors expected her to complete the same amount of work in the shorter work week. The employee claims she asked several times for a reduced workload as part of her reasonable accommodation, but she was denied. She did not adequately complete her work, received low performance ratings, and was eventually laid off due to her low ratings.
The plaintiff in this case claimed IBM failed to provide a reasonable accommodation by refusing to reduce her workload. Though an employer does not have to remove essential job functions, the court found that IBM never proved that the full workload was essential to her position. Because IBM did not prove that all the tasks she was assigned were essential job functions, the court refused to dismiss the case. Now, a jury will decide at trial whether the employee was unlawfully denied a reasonable accommodation.
The essential job function component of the ADA is an important one. If a job duty is only marginal to the position, a company may be in violation of the ADA if it does not adjust the job to meet the employee’s needs. If you have any questions about ADA compliance or believe your employer has violated the ADA, call HKM Employment Attorneys today for help.