What are the Essential Functions of a Job Under the ADA

By hrlineup | 02.01.2020

“Disability is not inability,” and “disability is a matter of perception” are some quotes that relate to work and disability.

The life of your employees can take a drastic turn if they suffer impairment. It is notably worse if the injury they sustain leaves them disabled. As a company, you may support temporary disability, but a permanent one poses a considerable challenge, especially if it makes them unable to perform their prescribed duties.

It will make you wonder whether this employee has a continued right to maintain their job. But caution is advised, firing an employee based on disability is not a clear cut case. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as long as the employee can perform essential functions of a job, you have to do your best to accommodate the employee.

According to ADA, disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individuals.

The law protects not just an employee but a potential employee as well from disability discrimination. Of course, it also acknowledges that an employer wants the job done. So, to enjoy such a privilege, an employee or a qualified candidate with a disability must at least be able to perform the job description’s essential functions, with or without ADA’s reasonable accommodation.

What are the ADA Essential Functions?

Essential job functions are the employer’s prescribed duties of a position. Anybody holding that position must be able to do these duties.

These duties are the very reason why the position exists in the first place. In some cases, they are highly specialized, and only employees can serve that position because of their expertise.

A candidate or an employee must meet the job’s basic requirements, and at the very least, with a reasonable accommodation from the employer.

The law doesn’t cushion incompetence, though. If an employee or a candidate can’t perform these essential job functions, then they lose the protection from discrimination, and you are free not to retain or hire them.

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA requires that an employer makes reasonable effort to accommodate an employee with a disability. “Reasonable” here implies simple changes like adjusting the work environment or using an essential tool to assist the employee.

For example, an employer can buy an antiglare screen, which hardly costs $50, for a person who has an eye disorder, to prevent the glare on the computer from affecting their productivity.

Also, an employee in a wheelchair may need a raised desk to allow them sufficient working space.

This effort, however, should not cause the business or company too much strain or cost. If the accommodation is very costly, or too disruptive, and the employer can prove this, then they are not to hire or retain the employee. For example, it is unduly necessary to hire an interpreter for a deaf front office assistant.

It is always advisable to talk to a knowledgeable employment lawyer when confronted with some of this employment issue, especially in regards to reasonable accommodations for an employee who has suffered injuries that rendered them disabled.