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ADA: Don’t rush to scrap essential function

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s not always possible to accommodate an employee’s disability. Employers do have to consider possible accommodations that allow a disabled employee to retain his job.

However, it is unreasonable to expect the employer to entirely eliminate an essential job function.

Recent case: Tony did janitorial work for the city of Santa Monica, work that involved pushing large trash receptacles—weighing between 750 and 1,200 pounds—across a yard.

He slipped and hurt his knee. Eventually, he underwent three operations but still had medical restrictions on his ability to walk, lift, push and bend.

Tony requested reasonable accommodations and suggested that he could perhaps drive a garbage truck with a side lift for scooping up trash receptacles. That, he believed, would enable him to work without having to maneuver the containers, but could simply hook them with the truck.

City officials who handle ADA issues discussed the accommodation, but told Tony that the driving position required being able to operate four different kinds of trucks, some requiring the driver to get out and lift trash receptacles.

Tony’s superiors insisted that being able to drive all four types of trucks was an essential function of the job because drivers covered for each other during absences. Plus, during an emergency, all drivers would have to report for work and be able to drive any kind of truck that happened to be  available.

Tony sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court sided with the city of Santa Monica.

It said that an employer is not required to completely remove an essential function.

Therefore, the city didn’t break the law when it refused to let Tony operate only one type of truck. (Nealy v. City of Santa Monica, No. 246634, Court of Appeal of California, 2015)

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