Employee Job Descriptions Can Make a Difference in Whether the Employer Has Potential Liability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Carol Keough November 8, 2012

Even with a disability, a person must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.  For example, if an employee is hired to do deliveries, one of the essential functions of the job is driving.  If a person has a disability and cannot drive, then that person cannot perform the essential functions of the job.  An employer does not have to hire an employee who is unable to drive if the job description calls for driving.

However, what if the job description calls for someone to perform yard maintenance, but does not require driving as a duty or responsibility.  When asked to drive a vehicle to a dumpster, the employee backs into the dumpster.  Can the disabled employee be fired for the accident?

A court in the Southern District of Texas held that if the job description did not include driving as a duty or responsibility, then the Dickinson Independent School District should have accommodated the disability by relieving the employee of his driving duties.  The employee’s duties could have been restructured in accordance with the ADA.  The employee gets to take his failure to accommodate claim under the ADA to the jury.

Job descriptions can be invaluable to the employer for many reasons.  The job description sets out the essential functions of the job which every employee must perform in order to do the job.  If the job description is accurate, then it can support the employer’s reason for not hiring an applicant or for terminating an employee who qualifies under the ADA as having a disability.  In the school district’s case the job description was incomplete which opened the door for an ADA failure to accommodate claim.  So as an employer, do not put having complete and accurate job descriptions on the back burner.  As illustrated by this case, an inaccurate job description can be used against the employer and lead to legal liability.

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