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Essential Job Function Changes and the ADA
April 12, 2006
A company has an employee with a disability whose performance in the position has been exceptional. Due to company-wide changes in policy and procedures, new mandates will cause the essential functions of the employee's job to change.
Question: Can the employer implement new standards that change the essential functions of the job if they would result in the employee's inability to perform that job?
The essential functions of a job may change from time to time. Employers have the right to establish or change content, nature or functions of a job. The ADA simply requires that employers evaluate an employee's qualifications as they relate to his/her ability to perform the essential functions of the new position, with or without reasonable accommodations. Thus, an employer can combine two jobs into a new one that requires an employee to perform the essential functions of both former jobs.
When changes to essential job functions are made for legitimate business reasons, their impact on employee with a disability does not render the change unlawful. The ADA does not limit an employer's ability to establish or change the content, nature, or functions of a job. The employer has the right to establish what a job is and what functions are required to perform it. The ADA simply requires that an individual with a disability's qualifications for a job be evaluated in relation to its essential functions.
A grocery store may have two different jobs at the checkout stand, one titled "checkout clerk" and the other "bagger." The essential functions of the checkout clerk are entering the price for each item into a cash register, receiving money, making change, and passing items to the bagger. The essential functions of the bagging job are putting items into bags, giving the bags to the customer directly, or placing them in grocery carts.
For legitimate business reasons, the store management decides to combine the two jobs in a new job called "checker-bagger." In the new job, each employee will have to perform the essential functions of both former jobs. Each employee now must enter prices in a new, faster computer-scanner, put the items in bags, give the bags to the customer or place them in carts. The employee holding this job would have to perform all of these functions.
There may be some aspects of each function, however, that are not "essential" to the job, or some possible modification in the way these functions are performed, that would enable a person formerly employed as a "checker" whose disability prevented performance of all the bagging operations to do the new job.
If the checker's disability made it impossible to lift any item over one pound, s/he might not be qualified to perform the essential bagging functions of the new job. But if the disability only precluded lifting items of more than 20 pounds, it might be possible for this person to perform the bagging functions, except for the relatively few instances when items or loaded bags weigh more than 20 pounds. If other employees are available who could help this individual with the few heavy items, perhaps in exchange for some incidental functions that they perform, or if this employee could keep filled bags loads under 20 pounds, then bagging loads over 20 pounds would not be an essential function of the new job.
For additional information:
Americans with Disabilities Act Title I Technical Assistance Manual
The Southeast Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) is authorized by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to provide information, materials, and technical assistance to individuals and entities that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under Grant #H133D010207. However, you should be aware that NIDRR is not responsible for enforcement of the ADA For more information or assistance, please contact the Southeast DBTAC via its web site at www.sedbtac.org or by calling 1-800-949-4232 (TTY/voice).