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Inability to perform a specific job doesn’t mean employee is disabled

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees seem to believe that every medical problem is a disability that requires accommodation. That’s not true. Employees aren’t disabled unless their condition substantially limits a major life function.

If the only effect is an inability to perform a specific job—not a class of jobs—the employee isn’t disabled and doesn’t have to be accommodated.

Recent case: Keith Powers worked for USF Holland as a long-distance truck driver. He injured his back, but was able to return to work. Then his wife became pregnant and he wanted to be closer to home. He requested a transfer to a local driving position in the city. His union contract allowed one transfer per year, and USF approved Powers’ request.

But driving a city route aggravated Powers’ back problems because he had to get in and out frequently and lift cargo. He couldn’t transfer back because of the one-year rule, so he asked for accommodations. His request was rejected.

Powers sued, alleging disability discrimination.

But he couldn’t show that his back malady created problems in any area of his life other than the ability to drive a city truck. The court said he wasn’t disabled under the ADA. (Powers v. USF Holland, No. 10-2363, 7th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Always consider whether the employee may be limited in other major life activities before rejecting accommodations requests. Had Powers been unable to do household chores, the outcome might have been different.

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