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ADA: No need to eliminate essential functions

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Some disabled employees think employers should drastically modify their jobs so they are do-able, even if that means removing essential functions from job descriptions. Fortunately, there’s no such requirement.

If a function is truly essential to a job, the employee isn’t qualified for the job if his disabilities can’t be accommodated. No job restructuring is required under the ADA.

Recent case: Maurice wanted to become a head nurse. She has several disabilities that prevent her from lifting patients, sitting or standing in one position for more than 20 minutes at a time and pushing wheelchairs, stretchers or heavy carts.

When the hospital refused to change the head nurse job description, she sued. Maurice claimed a head nurse’s main duties revolve around directing other nurses, not performing direct nursing work.

The hospital argued that its job descriptions clearly state that all nursing staff might have to transport patients and render direct patient care at any time. It said head nurses frequently must move patients and provide other direct services.

The hospital contended that having to excuse Maurice from those requirements would be tantamount to creating an entirely new job for her alone, just to meet her restrictions.

The court agreed and dismissed the case. (Davis v. The New York City Health and Hospitals Cor­­por­­at­­ion, et al., No. 11-4473, 2nd Cir., 2013)

Final note: Courts generally defer to an employer’s job de­­scription. That’s why you should make sure they spell out all essential functions. Appli­­­­cants who can’t perform essential tasks aren’t qualified.

While it may be reasonable to offer assistance, that’s not the same as eliminating the need to perform the function altogether. For example, providing a lifting device may be reasonable, but hiring another employee to lift patients isn’t.

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