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Before assuming you must accommodate under ADA, evaluate disability and ability

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled applicants and employees within a tight set of parameters. Of course, most Americans suffer from at least one medical or physical condition that limits them in some way. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone is disabled and entitled to reasonable accommodations. Instead, only those whose conditions substantially limit a major life activity (such as walking, talking, breathing or taking care of oneself) are covered.

But the accommodations inquiry doesn’t stop there. An employer only has to offer reasonable accommodations that allow a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of a job.

Employers don’t have to create new jobs or restructure jobs to such an extent that essential functions are dropped.

Recent case: Edward Wofsy worked for Palmshores Retirement Community as a bus driver, taking retirees on excursions. Wofsy has asthma, which he controls with medication. Wofsy insisted, though, that he couldn’t drive a bus outside the immediate area because of his asthma. He asked his employer not to assign him to longer drives.

When the company refused, Wofsy sued, alleging ADA violations. The company said long-distance driving was an essential function of the job and that it didn’t think Wofsy was disabled under the ADA. It pointed out that, with medication, he led a normal life and was able to do just about everything anyone else could do.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the company. It said Wofsy wasn’t disabled. It added that even if he were, the company was entitled to keep long-distance driving as an essential function of the bus driving job. It did not have to “accommodate away” the requirement. (Wofsy v. Palmshores Retirement Community, No. 08-10724, 11th Cir., 2008)

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