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Employment Blog

Accurate Job Descriptions Key in ADA Case

Authored by Kevin J.T. Terry
Kevin J.T. Terry
Attorney
Wausau Office

Posted on April 7, 2013
Filed under Employment

The Eighth Circuit recently decided a case that stands for the notion that an employer's description of the essential functions of an employee's job, and not the employee's specific personal experience in the job, is critical in determining whether or not an employee is qualified for protection under the ADA.

In Knutson v. Schwan's Home Service, Inc., the employee was terminated because he was no longer able to meet the physical standards set forth in the job description as a warehouse manager. Included in that description was the ability to be licensed to drive a commercial vehicle. Knutson suffered a serious eye injury after which he was unable to obtain the medical waiver necessary to qualify him for the required DOT certification. Because he was unable to be licensed as a commercial driver, the employer said he was unable to perform an essential function of the job with Schwan's and terminated employment.

Knutson argued that driving truck was not an essential function of the job because he had only actually driven a commercial vehicle a handful of times while employed as a warehouse manager. The court rejected this argument, and instead relied on the written job description and the company's judgment of the duties of a warehouse manager. Even though the managers do not necessarily drive commercial trucks on a daily basis, the employer's judgment of the essential job functions and the need for managers to be able to drive commercial trucks proved to be "highly probative."

While this decision is not binding in Wisconsin, it is a reminder of how important accurate job descriptions can be to employers. Just as handbooks and policies need to be updated by the employer frequently, employers must review job descriptions to assure that each accurately reflects the core duties, qualifications, and responsibilities associated with the position.