When it comes to highway safety, disabled employees may lose some rights. While employers can and must accommodate many disabilities for most positions, that’s not always the case for jobs that require driving commercial vehicles.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has strict medical requirements for obtaining a commercial license. Those include medical recertification when an employee has been on disability leave, or at regular intervals if he or she suffers from specific disabilities like diabetes.
Employers that list driving a commercial vehicle as an essential function of a position can rest assured that if a disabled employee cannot get recertified under DOT regulations, there is no need to offer other accommodations. An employee lacking certification isn’t otherwise qualified for the job and therefore not covered by the ADA.
Recent case: Benjamin Tate worked as a delivery driver, restocking Pepsi products on a set route. The job required a commercial driver’s license.
Tate had to take disability leave when he checked into a psychiatric ward for inpatient treatment. He was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder with paranoid delusions and received medications to treat the condition.
When he was released for work, he had to undergo DOT recertification required for everyone who has taken disability leave. His doctors couldn’t issue the certification because of the medications he had to take. His employer then refused to reinstate him to his former position, but offered him other jobs.
Tate refused and sued, arguing that he should have been accommodated.
The court disagreed, ruling that without DOT certification, he wasn’t qualified to perform the essential functions of his job—driving. It also noted that nothing in the ADA says that employers have to ignore other safety regulations such as those issued by the DOT. (Tate v. NC Pepsi, No. 3:09-CV-36, WD NC, 2011)