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What’s an ‘Essential Function’? Consult DOL Manual

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The ADA requires employers to identify the essential functions of all jobs and make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees to perform those tasks. Generally, employers are free to define a job’s essential functions. But if you pile too many tasks onto that “essential functions” list, you may court trouble.

Your best bet: Before finalizing job descriptions, compare your description with the U.S. Labor Department’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Reason: Courts are beginning to rely on the dictionary when employers’ lists seem suspect. (Download the manual at www.oalj.dol.gov/ libdot.htm.)

Recent case: Richard Johnson, a textbook sales rep, developed back problems and couldn’t lift heavy boxes. He asked for an accommodation, but the company refused and fired him. It reasoned that lifting heavy boxes was listed as an essential function of his job, so it couldn’t accommodate him.

Johnson sued under the ADA. The court consulted Labor’s occupational dictionary and found no mention of heavy lifting on the list. Testimony from other sales reps also showed they simply had janitors or maintenance personnel help them lift boxes. The court concluded lifting wasn’t an essential job function. (Johnson v. McGraw-Hill, No. 2:03-CV-889, WD PA, 2006)

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