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Must an employer accommodate an employee who cannot perform their essential job functions?

Enforcement guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) indicates employers are required "to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship." Furthermore, employees must possess the knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation. When employees with disabilities have difficulty performing the essential job functions, employers first should consider what, if any, reasonable accommodations might be necessary under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Although the amended regulations outline significant changes to the definition of a disability, they point to the need for employers to focus more on their responsibilities for accommodating employees rather than attempting to rule out the need to provide an accommodation.

The EEOC's recommended interactive process involves reviewing essential job functions to determine how the employee's disability affects the ability to perform these functions. SHRM has developed a How-to Guide to assist employers with the accommodation process. Although reasonable accommodations must be provided to enable an individual to perform the essential functions of his or her job, significant modifications and/or restructuring of the essential job duties so that the position no longer resembles its purpose are generally not considered reasonable.

The EEOC enforcement guidance further indicates, "A modification or adjustment is 'reasonable' if it seems reasonable on its face, i.e., ordinarily or in the run of cases." This means it is "reasonable" if it appears to be "feasible" or "plausible." An accommodation also must be effective in meeting the needs of the individual. In the context of job performance, this means that a reasonable accommodation enables the individual to perform the essential functions of the position.

An employer does not have to eliminate an essential function, i.e., a fundamental duty of the position. This is because a person with a disability who is unable to perform the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, is not a "qualified" individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA.

See How do I know if a work accommodation will create an undue hardship?



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