HOW ARE ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS DETERMINED?
The ADA defines essential functions as follows:
Essential functions – The term essential functions means the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term "essential functions'' does not include the marginal functions of the position.
A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:
Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes, but is not limited to:
Reprinted From:PART 1630_REGULATIONS TO IMPLEMENT THE EQUAL EMPLOYMENT PROVISIONS OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Basically, "Essential Functions" are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation (we will talk more about reasonable accommodations in the next section). Before advertising a job and beginning the hiring process, you'll need to create a job description which details the essential and marginal functions (non-essential functions) of the job position. The essential job functions will need to be included in the job description. This information will be important for determining if an applicant can perform the essential duties of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
For example, let's look at the essential and marginal job functions of a receptionist in a professional office.
Essential job functions might include:
- Answering the telephone and assisting callers;
- Recording messages for department personnel; and
- Greeting clients and customers.
Marginal job functions might include:
- Sending job-related faxes;
- Escorting clients to staff offices.
For this receptionist position, an applicant would need to be able to perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation. The marginal or non-essential job functions are those that could be redesigned or reassigned to other employees, if necessary. You should carefully examine each job to determine which functions or tasks are essential to performance. This is particularly important before taking an employment action such as recruiting, hiring, promoting or firing employees.
Whether or not a particular duty is considered marginal will depend on:
- Whether the reason the position exists is to perform a specific function: For example, a position may exist for the sole purpose of proofreading documents. The ability to proofread the documents would then be an essential function (probably the only one) of that job, because that is the reason the position was created.
- Number of other employees available to perform that job function, or among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed: For example, in the above example for the receptionist position the responsibility of sending faxes for other employees might be considered essential if it was a small office where no one else was available to perform the task.
- Degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function: In certain professions and highly skilled positions, employees are hired for their expertise or ability to perform the particular function. For example, computer programmers are hired for their ability to develop computer programs. In such situations, the performance of that specialized task would be an essential function.
In summary, a duty would be considered an "essential" function of the position if it is important to your company's operation, it is performed with frequency, there isn't sufficient staff to reassign it, and it can't be redesigned or performed in another way.
The ADA regulation also states that relevant evidence as to whether a function is essential may include:
- Employer's judgment as to which functions are essential
- Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job (this is very helpful)
- Amount of time spent on the job performing the function (Example: if an employee spends the vast majority of time working at a cash register, this would be evidence that operating the cash register is an essential function.)
- Consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function. If not requiring a job function would prevent reaching intended work outcomes of the position, it is essential.
It is important to remember this message: "The employer has the right to determine the essential functions, educational training requirements, and the performance standards of the job, as long as standards and requirements are consistently applied and are not established specifically to discriminate against people with disabilities." (Baum, et al., 2004)
Let's look at an example of essential function through the following quiz: