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Employment Blog

Adjust Job Duties

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on November 3, 2014
Filed under Employment

A recent decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reaffirmed the duty of employers to consider minor adjustments to job duties as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision, while dealing with the ADA, reinforces the position taken by the Equal Right Division in Wisconsin that adjustment of work duties assigned to an employee, even on a permanent basis, may be a reasonable accommodation that must be made by an employer.

In this case, an employee was required, as part of her regular duties, to push a wheelchair with a resident during the course of the workday to a location where the employee was a hairdresser for residents of a nursing home. The employee suffered a permanent injury that prevented her from pushing the resident in a wheelchair, so the employer terminated the employee for inability to do the normal duties of her position. As the case wound its way through the courts, a motion for summary judgment was denied by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Wisconsin) so the matter has been sent back to the trial court on the factual issue of whether the wheelchair pushing responsibility was an essential function of the job held by the employee. One of the findings from the 7th Circuit decision was that "job restructuring" is one of the accommodations that an employer must consider under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This has always been the law in Wisconsin because of court statements in various decisions suggesting that an employer must modify the job duties of a disabled employee as part of the reasonable accommodation requirement under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. In fact, some courts have suggested the employer would be obligated to modify up to 80 percent of the employee's job duties as part of the duty to accommodate a disability. That is not the ruling in the 7th Circuit decision; however, the new decision does support this notion of a duty to adjust job responsibilities as part of a reasonable accommodation. Every case must be considered on its own merits depending upon the job tasks and the limitations the employee may have. Employers must be very careful when considering termination of an employee because they cannot do all of the job duties of the position. That may not be the right decision depending upon the facts.