- A police officer who was forced to retire after his department discovered he had vision in only one eye raised a triable issue of fact as to whether he was qualified to perform the essential functions of his job (Melo v. City of Somerville, No. 19-1337 (1st Cir. March 24, 2020)).
- The officer, Carlos Melo, was injured in 2002 and lost almost all vision in his left eye, but doctors eventually cleared him to work with no restrictions. In 2015, he submitted to a fitness-for-duty exam after it emerged that he occasionally used marijuana to help with migraines he experienced as a result of the injury. An ophthalmologist confirmed that Melo had essentially monocular vision and was unfit for duty because he could not safely engage in high-speed pursuit driving. The department then initiated involuntary retirement proceedings. Melo requested a light-duty accommodation, but this possibility was never explored.
- The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's summary judgment ruling in favor of the city. While state rules required new police officers to have vision of at least 20/100 in each eye, there was "room for the possibility" that this was not a requirement for existing police officers, said the 1st Circuit. Melo never had any vision-related problems on the job, and the department did not test the vision of current officers. Additionally, the court noted, "[n]othing in the ADA or its implementing regulations suggests that a written job description necessarily controls the determination of what job functions are essential."
While the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its interpretative regulations state that "written [job] descriptions are entitled to consideration," as the 1st Circuit pointed out, the true essential functions of a given job are a fact-specific question that takes many factors into account.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), essential functions are "the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation." Factors to consider include:
- "Whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function."
- Whether there are other employees who can perform the function, or if it can be shared among multiple employees.
- "The degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function."
In addition to written job descriptions, the EEOC considers the actual work experience of current or past employees in the job, the time spent performing a function, the consequences of not requiring that an employee perform a function and the terms of any applicable collective bargaining agreements.
The ADA requires that applicants and employees be provided with reasonable accommodations, if necessary, in order to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodations can take many forms, including revised work arrangements or schedules, modifications to jobs and how they are performed, and extended leave arrangements.