Being At Work Is An Essential Job Function

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May 20, 2014

One of my colleagues recently wrote about an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that determined whether an employee is disabled. That determination was based on the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Rather than considering the actual duties being performed by the employee, the Court looked to the job description prepared by the employer, which described the essential functions of the position. This decision places great importance on the job descriptions prepared by an employer.

A recent decision from the District Court in the Fifth Circuit held that attendance at work could be considered an essential function of a position. If that occurs, an employee who could not meet the employer attendance requirements would not be considered a “qualified employee” under the Americans With Disabilities Act and would not qualify for protection such as a reasonable accommodation. While this is an initial stage of the Court rulings, it too highlights the importance of having accurate job descriptions and comprehensive job descriptions that identify the expectation of attendance at work as a requirement of the job.

Many employers have not invested the time to update job descriptions. This may result in a loss of an opportunity to clearly identify the job expectations for a position and insure that all employees must be able to perform the essential duties of the job in order to be considered a protected employee that may be eligible for reasonable accommodations if suffering a disabling condition. Employers should also be careful to clearly indicate the attendance expectations for a position in order to be able to argue the attendance requirement as being an essential function of the position held by the employee.

Often, the best way to review a job description is to ask the supervisor to review the description of all the positions that the supervisor is involved in actually supervising. It is important to have common language in all job descriptions, but it is also important to have specific descriptions that clearly identify the duties of the position. These recent Federal Court cases show the importance of an accurate job description.

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