If you don’t have up-to-date job descriptions, you are asking for legal trouble the next time an employee asks for reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
Without a current job description, the employee will come up with her own—quite possibly minimizing the essential functions she can’t perform. That will make it easy for her to claim you unreasonably refused to let her do the job because she is disabled.
Recent case: United Airlines employee Lenora Humphrey-Baker broke her foot and ankle at work. The injury led to years of litigation, workers’ compensation payments, Social Security disability applications and, finally, a disability discrimination failure-to-accommodate claim.
Humphrey-Baker claimed that United had open jobs she could perform, with or without an accommodation, including that of customer service representative (CSR) at an airport boarding station.
But the airline had a clear job description that explained a CSR had to do more than collect tickets. It said CSRs must be able to stand for long periods of time, carry luggage and help disabled passengers and children board planes. Humphrey-Baker claimed all she needed was a stool at the counter.
The court said her expectation was unrealistic. Since she was unable to show that the job didn’t require everything the job description said it did, the case was dismissed. (Humphrey-Baker v. United Airlines, No. 07-1093, CD CA, 2008)
Final note: Regularly update job descriptions—especially whenever an employee is assigned additional duties. If the airline had not had a very specific job description, the court might have adopted the employee’s version. Remember, if an employee helps craft her own job description as part of her review, she won’t be able to back down from what she lists as her essential functions later.