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Accommodate disabled workers, but don’t alter main job functions

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

When employees request job accommodations for their disabilities, you must interact with them to find reasonable modifications. But it's important to know how far your organization must stretch the job to comply.

The good news: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says you're not required to create an entirely new position for disabled employees, nor must you change the job's "essential functions" just to suit the disability.

When determining a job's essential functions and the reasonableness of a suggested accommodation, here's a checklist of evidence you (and the courts) will look at:


  • Your written job description.



  • Your judgment as to what functions are essential.



  • Amount of time spent performing each function.



  • Consequences of the employee not performing the duties.



  • Terms of a collective-bargaining agreement, if you have one.



  • Experience of other employees in the position (or similar positions).




Tip: Constantly review your job descriptions for applicability; they play a key role in determining what's an "essential" function and what's not.

Recent case: Clyde Ammons suffered a knee injury that restricted his ability to do his regular lead mechanic job. Ammons suggested that his position be changed to "maintenance trouble-shooter," making it a half-day rather than a full- day job. The company refused, saying such an accommodation would be a significant change in his job's essential functions.

After Ammons was fired, he sued, alleging an ADA violation. A lower court tossed out the case, and a federal appeals court agreed, saying, "accommodations for a full-time employee are expected to permit the employee to work full time." Letting him work part time as a maintenance trouble-shooter would amount to creating an entirely new position, which employers are not obligated to do. (Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Services, No. 03-1036, 7th Cir., 2004)

Free report: The Limits of Accommodation. How far must you go to comply with the ADA's "reasonable accommodation" rules? Find out in our E-visory report, ADA: The Limits of Accommodation, which is available free to subscribers at

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