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Disability Discrimination vs. The Essential Functions of Performing a Job

Disability Discrimination vs. The Essential Functions of Performing a Job

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that an employer must provide reasonable accommodations for an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job. Essential functions of a job are those duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that employers should consider the following factors to determine if a function is essential: (a) whether or not the position exists to perform the function; (b) the number of other workers available to perform the function; and (c) the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.

Courts and the EEOC have long stated that written job descriptions show exactly what the essential functions of a job are. Also, the actual work itself provides equally strong evidence, showing the time spent on various tasks and the importance to the job of performing the tasks.

An employer may conduct fitness-for-duty exams if the employer has a reasonable, good-faith concern about a disabled worker’s ability to perform the essential functions of a job – however, the exam must be job-related and needed for business necessity. This can be a very intrusive process for a worker.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (which encompasses Maryland) ruled in favor of an employee when her employer directed her to take a medical exam because the employer questioned her ability to do essential functions of her job. In EEOC v. McLeod Health, Inc., No. 17-2335 (4th Cir. Jan. 31, 2019), the EEOC filed suit on behalf of the fired disabled (mobility impairment) employee who had worked for the employer for more than 30 years and was terminated after the medical exam indicated that she could not do the job, which was to edit an employee newsletter.

The employee satisfactorily performed her duties for nearly 30 years, despite her mobility impairment. However, after falling on the job and missing some deadlines, the company made her submit to a functional capacity examination. After the exam, the employer concluded that the employee could not safely do her job, which the employer said required frequent travel to its various locations.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that the worker’s case was strong enough to go to a jury. The Court concluded that the employer’s medical examination was not job-related and not consistent with business necessity, noting that the employee had done her job for 30 years and the evidence was “mixed” as to whether the exam was really job-related.

The Court also held that a jury was to decide whether travel was really an essential function of the job. The employee relied on the job description that had no mention of travel and testified that she chose to travel and that she could do her job from her office by telephone, email and other forms of electronic communications.

This a good case for employees that the Court got right!

If you are a victim of Disability Discrimination on the job or at your workplace, the attorneys of Lebau & Neuworth may be able to help you make things right with your employer. Contact us at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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