Accurate and current job descriptions are of great importance to employers. This is especially true under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities who are able to perform the essential duties of their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodations.
A current job description can help define the essential functions of a job. Consider these facts.
The employee was a warehouse manager. Part of the job description for the position required the manager to be Department of Transportation-qualified to drive commercial motor vehicles. Due to an eye injury, the manager lost his DOT qualification. Because there were no open positions for which he was qualified, the employee was terminated.
He filed suit under the ADA. His eye injury was clearly a disability. The issue was whether being DOT-qualified was an essential function of the job. If it was, the employee could not perform it, and no reasonable accommodation would be available.
The employee argued that being DOT-qualified to drive commercial vehicles was not an essential function of the manager’s job. His evidence: rarely did he ever have to drive a commercial vehicle. In fact, over a two-year period, he had to drive a commercial vehicle less than 50 times. How can a task infrequently performed be an essential one?
The court rejected the employee’s argument. The frequency – or infrequency – of performing a task can be a factor in determining if it is an essential function of a job.
However there are other factors, both of which prevailed in the case. First, an employer’s judgment as to what constitutes an essential function is given weight. Here, the written job description stated that being DOT-qualified was an essential function.
Additionally, although the need of the manager to operate a commercial vehicle was infrequent, when the need arose, the importance to the employer was great. If managers could not drive, they could not fill in for absent drivers. If the manager could not fill in, product could not be delivered, and sales would be affected.
Opinions are solely the writer's. James Jorgensen practices law at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso.