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ADA alert: Make sure job descriptions spell out essential functions

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

You don’t have to accommodate disabled employees who can’t per­­form the essential functions of their jobs under any circumstances. If making reasonable accommodations won’t help, the ADA doesn’t apply.

But before you can make that argument, you must be able to show what those essential functions are.

Recent case: Elizabeth was a philosophy professor at Lewis Uni­­ver­­sity. She became depressed and anxious because of conflicts with the department chair and others at the university. She requested several reasonable accommodations, including assignment to an office far away from the chair’s office. None of the offices the university suggested suited her and she sued, alleging disability discrimination.

The university argued that Eliza­­beth couldn’t claim ADA protection be­­cause it could do nothing to enable her to perform the essential functions of her job, which it defined as communicating with students, professors, administrators and others at the university. Elizabeth had claimed that for a month, she felt unable to check her voicemail or email. The university said that obviously meant she couldn’t be accommodated.

The court disagreed with the school. It pointed out that the job description for her position didn’t include specifics about communication. Plus, it was obvious that if she could teach her classes, she was communicating. That obligated the university to consider reasonable accommodations. (Hoppe v. Lewis University, No. 11-3358, 7th Cir., 2012)

Final note: The university won the case anyway because it showed Elizabeth didn’t cooperate in the accommodations process, other than to reject suggestions.

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