A recent Sixth Circuit case decision was issued which should serve as a reminder to all employers of the importance of double checking their written job descriptions to ensure they are accurate and enumerate the essential functions of each position. In December 2013, the Sixth Circuit partially reversed a District Court’s granting of summary judgment to an employer when it determined that there was an issue of material fact as to whether the employee could perform the essential functions of his position. In so ruling, the Sixth Circuit noted that the job function that the employee allegedly could not perform was not specifically listed in the written job description. On this basis, the Court determined there was a question as to whether it was an essential job function. The Sixth Circuit noted that the regulations accompanying the ADA provide seven (7) non-exclusive factors for determining whether a particular job function is essential:
- The employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential;
- Written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job;
- The amount of time spent on the job performing the function;
- The consequences of not requiring the incumbent employee to perform the function;
- The terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement;
- The experience of past incumbents and their job and/or
- The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.
In this particular case, the employee was terminated when he was no longer able to drive the manual transmission vehicle which was utilized to haul the excavator to the work sites. The employer contended that the excavator operators (which included the employee) hauled the excavator to the work site approximately 70% of the time while other employees hauled the excavator the other 30% of the time. The employee had obtained a release to return to work with the restriction that he was limited to driving automatic transmission vehicles. The employer ultimately terminated his employment on the basis that he could not perform all essential functions of his job; however, the Sixth Circuit noted that none of the job descriptions for the position posted by the company during the employee’s tenure of employment referenced hauling the excavator or driving a manual transmission. Although the job description did contain a catch phrase of “other duties assigned”, the Court noted that not every other duty is an essential function of the position. The Court ultimately decided to reverse the Court’s granting of summary judgment for the employer on the grounds that there was an issue of material fact regarding whether the employee was qualified with or without accommodation to perform the essential functions of his job. Accordingly, this decision highlights the need for employers to review their written job descriptions to ensure they are up to date and outline all of the essential functions for each position within their company.