Companies Alone Can't Define Job's 'Essential Function'

Companies Alone Can't Define Job's 'Essential Function' alphaspirit - Fotolia

When deciding if a duty is an essential function of a job, the employer’s determination is only one factor that courts should consider. That’s what the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in Rorrer v. City of Stow. Attorney Sindy Warren examines the ruling on Warren & Associates’ Our Blog.

The Americans With Disabilities Act case was filed by a firefighter who lost vision in one eye and was terminated because the employer decided he could no longer fulfill the essential functions of the job, specifically driving an emergency vehicle.

Warren says the trial court credited the employer’s assertion that driving a fire truck was an “essential function.” But the Sixth Circuit reversed, noting that under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, the employer’s determination is only one of seven factors the court should consider, including time spent on the job performing the function and “consequences of not requiring the [employee] to perform the function.”

Warren says the court found that “there was conflicting evidence about whether the ability to drive a fire truck was really essential or could have been assigned to someone else.” She says since the trial court appeared to only consider the city’s position, the case is being sent back and reassigned to a new judge.

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