Even rarely performed job functions may be “essential” under the ADA

You run a delivery service using large trucks and require that drivers be qualified by the Department of Transportation. Although your facility managers aren’t often behind the wheel of the big rigs, you nonetheless require that they too be DOT certified.

One day, a manager with a disabling eye injury comes to you and asks for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act: to┬ábe excused from driving trucks so that he may focus on “managing.”

Assuming that no other reasonable accommodation exists, must you give it to him?

According to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Jeff Knutson v. Schwan Food Company (opinion here), that’s a big N-O, good buddies.

Even though your manager rarely has to drive, job functions that aren’t performed that often can still be “essential” functions of the job. “Essential functions” are “the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds.” What is (and is not) an essential function can depends on several factors the court espoused:

Evidence to consider in this determination may include: (1) the employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential; (2) written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job; (3) the amount of time spent on the job performing the function; (4) the consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function; and (5) the current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

In your case (as in Knutson — I shamelessly ripped the facts from Knutson. It was easier than blogging about Ray J’s new song. Is it a Kimye diss track? Who knows? Who cares? I want those last three sentences back…), if you’ve got a good written job description, your judgment is sound, and the experience and expectations of all managers is that they need to get behind the wheel from time to time, then you’re defense that driving is an essential job function is solid.

So, take a look at those job descriptions and talk to your employees about what they do on a day-to-day basis. And update those job descriptions accordingly.