If you don’t have accurate and up-to-date job descriptions, you’re probably courting trouble—especially if an employee develops a disability and wants a reasonable accommodation.
That’s because what an employee considers a job’s essential functions may not jibe with your assessment.
If you turn down an accommodation request based on ad hoc criteria, the employee may sue. And a judge might rule in the employee’s favor if you can’t show you had already enumerated essential functions.
But, if you have a job description that clearly lists essential functions that the employee can’t perform, chances are you will win the case.
Recent case: Roger Duello operated a dump truck and a road grader. For most of the year, his job consisted of dumping gravel and spreading it on county roads. In the winter, he attached a plow to the front of the dump truck and removed snow from roads.
When he had a seizure, his driving privileges were suspended, including his license to drive dump trucks and road graders.
After taking, Duello requested one of two accommodations: either more leave or transfer to a job with no driving. Instead, the county he worked for fired him. It reasoned that Duello couldn’t perform any of the essential functions listed in his job description without a license and therefore wasn’t qualified for his position.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. (Duello v. Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, No. 10-2061, 8th Cir., 2010)
Final note: Make sure your job descriptions reflect how the job is really performed. Many employees have assumed more tasks as employers delay new hiring. Some of that new work may qualify as essential, and old essential functions tasks may have been transferred to someone else. Have employees review the descriptions for accuracy.