April 29, 2021

Job Description Saves the Day (Again)!

Last Fall, I wrote about another case in which the employer’s well-written job description supported its defense against a disability discrimination / failure to provide reasonable accommodation claim.

In this case, a pregnant employee asked to work only day shifts because she was having severe nausea and vomiting. Her boss agreed while she got a doctor’s note to confirm the medical request. But, when she turned in the doctor’s note, it restricted her from more than just working nights! (Oops – guess she should have read it first!).

The employee’s job description listed physical requirements of the job including, “bending, squatting, kneeling, reaching above and below the shoulders, and lifting and carrying up to 50 pounds.” Her doctor’s note restricted her from performing almost every one of those tasks.  So, her employer (an HR department representative) put her out on medical leave.  When her leave ended, she was returned to her same job, with the same pay and benefits.

So what’s the problem? She sued alleging that she was unlawfully, “excluded from work…due to her diminished capacity during pregnancy,” and the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation of “putting her on days as she and her doctor had requested.”  Did the court buy it?  Nope! As the court described it, her “thesis does not hold together.” The court found “a big problem” for the employee was her failure to explain how working day shift only would help her perform any of the physical duties that her doctor had clearly prohibited and “which were squarely at odds with the essential physical duties” of the job.

NOTE: The court also made a point of citing the percentage of time allocated to each job duty. Including that information on your job description could be a proactive practice. It can help demonstrate why a job duty is, in fact, essential.