If a doctor says an employee with a disability can’t perform the essential functions of his job, then guess what: You don’t have to accommodate him or her.
Frank Hohn was a locomotive machinist for BNSF Railway Co.
In early 2004, Hohn’s supervisors observed Hohn walking slowly and cautiously as well as missing handrails when he tried to grab them.
Hohn’s co-workers noted similar concerns in a memo to management, saying they feared for his well-being and were also afraid to work with him for fear of getting hurt.
The company placed Hohn on paid medical leave to get his eyes examined. Hohn was diagnosed with advanced stage retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes tunnel vision and night blindness. The doctor recommended a large number of work restrictions.
Company officials reviewed the doctor’s restrictions. They determined that Hohn couldn’t perform the essential functions of his job and that no accommodation existed. Hohn never returned to work for BNSF.
No accommodation existed
Hohn then sued, claiming disability discrimination.
A jury made quick work of his claim, though. It was clear based on Hohn’s doctor’s restrictions that Hohn could no longer perform the essential functions of his job and that no accommodation existed.
Therefore, the jury ruled in the company’s favor: “The ADA does not require an employer to permit an employee to perform a job function that the employee’s physician has forbidden.”
Though the case seems fairly straightforward, Maria Danaher, writing on the Employment Law Matters blog, points out a way the case could have taken a turn for the worse for the employer:
Employers should not draw from this case the conclusion that an employee with extensive medical restrictions can never be accommodated. To the contrary, had Hohn shown that there was an open position for which he was qualified and into which he could have moved, the result of the jury trial and, perhaps, the appellate decision, may have been different.
The case is Hohn v. BNSF Railway Company.