Your shoddy job description won’t help you in an ADA lawsuit

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Today, I want to take you to school to discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act and job descriptions.

Check that. Bad job descriptions.

I brought my pencil! Gimmee something to write on.

Hey, quit eyeballin’ me!

Better yet, close your eyes. Let’s pretend that you have a clerk position. And that clerk position has a job description. And that job description states that an essential function of the clerk position is that the clerk must be able to lift more than 35 pounds.

Ok, now let’s assume that you a employ a clerk. Your clerk has performed his job for years with a back impairment without incident or complaint and without having to lift 35 pounds.

With your HR-compliance hat cinched tightly to your brainy head, how confident are you that you’ll avoid liability after terminating this employee for his inability to lift 35 pounds?

According to this recent Sixth Circuit opinion, I believe that the answer is not very:

Bi-Lo has relied chiefly on a written job description for the stock clerk position and the opinion of Ray Kessler, its Human Resources Specialist, who opined that heavy lifting was an essential function. However, Kessler’s judgment comes solely from the written job description, which he acknowledges he was not involved in creating. He stated he had never observed Camp work and he had not talked with Camp or Camp’s coworkers about Camp’s job performance. We also note that the job description is dated May 26, 2007, many years after Camp began his employment in 1974. There is no evidence in the record of what the job description was for “stock clerk” in 1974 when Camp was first hired. Camp and his two coworkers on the third shift testified that they had never seen a job description for stock clerk before this litigation. It appears that Bi-Lo looked only to the job description to render its opinion that heavy lifting was an “essential function” of the stock clerk position.

Oh, wait. It’s about to get worse. While you have your job description, your employee has the word of his supervisor:

Camp points to the testimony of his immediate supervisor, Bishop, to rebut Bi-Lo’s heavy reliance on the written job description. Bishop testified that “heavy lifting was not an essential function of Mr. Camp’s job, and Mr. Camp did his job fine.”

It comes down to simple math: Actual performance + supervisor > job description.

Therefore, if it’s been a while since you’ve updated your job descriptions, do yourself a favor. Walk the floor. Talk to your employees and managers. Confirm that your employees’ day-to-day activities align with what’s on the paper. If not, correct your employee.

Or better yet, update the job description.

Image Credit: By Malate269 – Own work, Attribution, Link
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