Don't HR Alone #15 - Job Descriptions

Are Your Job Descriptions Accurate? That Could Make a Difference in an ADA Case

In today’s modern workplace, many employers have considered alternatives to traditional, in-office, 40-hour-per-week positions. Some employers have telecommuting options for certain employees, while others provide options for flexible schedules. However, not all positions are suited for work outside a traditional office setting and some positions cannot be as flexible as others. What happens when an employee who is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requests to work from home, wants a flexible schedule, or asks for an exemption from overtime as an accommodation? Several factors determine whether an employee is protected by the ADA, including whether the employee can perform the essential functions of his or her job with or without accommodation. Job duties make up these essential functions. Therefore, a job description that accurately describes the job duties and expectations for a position can help an employer show that an employee is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA and protect the employer from liability. ADA cases are dependent upon the specific facts and circumstances triggering the accommodation request and the employment environment, and a solid job description alone is not enough. However, in conjunction with other factors included in the regulations—such as the amount of time an employee spends performing the function, consequences of an employer not requiring the employee to perform the function, and work experience of employees in similar jobs—the result can be favorable for an employer. 29 CFR § 1630.2(n)(3). Recent case law addresses how a job description and these other factors can impact ADA lawsuits. Request for More Frequent Breaks and a More Flexible Schedule Having a job description with clear requirements for regular attendance and/or punctuality could impact whether an employee’s request for more frequent breaks and/or more scheduling flexibility during the workday meets the essential functions of a job. In a case decided earlier this year by the 6th Circuit, the court determined that an employee who requested leave from work for treatment, more flexibility in her scheduling, and additional breaks during her shift as accommodation for her disability could not meet the essential functions of her job because the position required regular attendance and punctuality. Williams v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC, No.16-6078 (6th Cir. 2017). The court considered the employer’s job description for the employee’s position (a customer service representative) and the employer’s strict adherence to written attendance guidelines, as two determinative factors when deciding in favor of the employer. Overtime If an employee’s expressed job duties require overtime, then the employee may not be able to meet the essential job functions if they are no longer able to work longer hours. The ability to meet overtime requirements was one of the issues in a case decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. Agee v. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc., No. 15-11747 (11th Cir. 2016). In the Agee case, the employee’s job description indic