The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a lot from employers. But do companies have to assign employees to help disabled workers with job functions they can’t perform?
Here are the details of the case:
Renee Majors worked for General Electric in Bloomington, IN, for 32 years.
In 2000, she suffered a work-related injury to her right shoulder. The injury precluded her from work above shoulder level with her right arm and meant she couldn’t lift more than 20 pounds.
The restrictions were considered temporary at first. Then they were determined to be permanent. Majors held jobs that didn’t require lifting for many years before becoming eligible for an auditor position that required “intermittent movement of heavy objects.”
An on-site nurse reviewed Majors medical restrictions and determined that Majors wasn’t qualified for the job. Majors was rejected, and a bevy of other GE employees looked into the matter. Majors argued that she could do the job as long as someone else could do the heavy lifting.
GE again decided Majors couldn’t perform an essential function of the auditor position because of her permanent lifting restrictions, and the company gave the job to the next most senior eligible bidder.
Essential functions are key
So — you guessed it — Majors sued, claiming disability bias based on a failure to discriminate her disability.
The court made quick work of Majors’ claim. Though intuitively it might seem OK to shift some functions of a worker’s job to another employee, the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t require employers to ask other employees to cover a disabled staffers work as a reasonable accommodation.
If an employee can’t perform the essential functions of his or her job without a reasonable accommodation, he or she isn’t qualified — and the company doesn’t have to accommodate him or her. That’s what happened here with Renee Majors.
Attorneys for Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein had the takeaway for HR pros:
This case did not address other accommodations sometimes sought for lifting restrictions. If an employee seeks use of powered lifting equipment or some other mechanical aid, this would not involve a shift of this essential function to a different person. The employer would be required to determine whether this requested accommodation is (1) feasible in terms of performing the necessary work; and (2) presents an undue hardship based on cost or interference with the work process. All steps of this accommodation analysis should be thoroughly documented.
The case is Majors v. General Electric Co.