ADA Accommodations are not meant to replace essential job functions

by on January 21, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

ADA requirement for a helper to accommodate?

Jerry Kennedy was indignant. He demanded an answer from his manager. “How can you call my request unreasonable?” he asked.

His boss, Mark Duarte, remained calm. After all, he liked Jerry. And he remembered a time when Jerry did a terrific job as a machine operator. Problem was, he had shoulder and neck injuries that prevented him from performing his duties.

“You know as well as I do,” Mark said, “that operators have to be able to perform all the duties of laborers. And you know you can’t handle that much lifting, Jerry. I’m really sorry.”

Heavy lifting required

But he persisted. “You showed me a list of each task that an operator performs, and each task that a laborer performs. I told you I could do almost everything on both of those lists!”

Mark explained that the job entailed lifting objects all day long.

“But my doc says I can lift anything under 21 pounds, all day, no problem,” said Jerry.

Mark shook his head and sighed. He wasn’t enjoying this. “Sure,” he said. “But you said you didn’t know if you could lift from 20 to 50 pounds. And your doctor says you’ll never be able to lift things over 50 pounds.”

“Lifting over 50 pounds isn’t a big part of the job,” said Jerry

“But it’s an important part of the job!”

Jerry argued that the company could find another person to handle the heavy lifting. But his boss said that would be like hiring an assistant for him. And he didn’t think that was a reasonable accommodation under ADA law.

Jerry was discharged, and he filed an ADA lawsuit, claiming that his employer failed to accommodate his ADA disability before terminating him.

Did he win in court?

The decision

No. Jerry lost his ADA lawsuit. The court said that the employer wasn’t required to hire a helper as an ADA accommodation.

The court accepted that an operator must be able to perform all the day-to-day tasks of a laborer. And it pointed out that the law won’t second guess an employer’s judgment as to the essential functions of a job.

Frequency not the issue…

Heavy lifting was an essential function of the position, said the court, because the employer said it was – not because of its frequency.

The court pointed out that a job function need not take a majority of an employee’s time in order to be essential.

…essential functions are the key

Remember, the ADA law is designed to protect employees with disabilities and job candidates who are able to perform the job’s essential functions.

ADA law says that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers. A stool, voice-activated software, an extra bathroom break or an ergonomic keyboard may be reasonable accommodations.

But not a helper whose sole purpose is to perform another employee’s essential job functions.

Cite: Peters v. City of Mauston, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, LEXIS 23869, 2002. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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