- Because an employee's required hours weren't listed in the "essential functions" section of his job description, it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that those hours weren't essential for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation purposes, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Snead v. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, No. 17-10338 (11th Cir. Feb. 21, 2018).
- The university switched its campus police officers from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts. Stanley Snead soon found himself experiencing symptoms related to high blood pressure, according to court documents. His doctor determined that the new schedule was to blame and requested that Snead be allowed to work the old schedule. The department refused, and Snead retired and sued, alleging that the university failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation.
- A jury awarded him more than $250,000 and the 11th Circuit affirmed. Among other factors, the court said it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that, because the working hours were listed separately from "essential functions" (and because the hours section noted the schedule could change), the ability to work a 12-hour shift was not essential.
Snead highlights not only the need to maintain job descriptions but also to carefully consider which tasks need to be "essential functions" and which do not. Under the ADA, employers do not have to eliminate anything considered an "essential function" as an accommodation.
According to an U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission document, The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer, the employer's judgment and a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job will be considered by the commission as evidence of essential functions. It also will consider the actual work experience of present 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 a collective bargaining agreement.
Additionally, it's important to ensure that job descriptions remain up to date. It’s never a bad time to review and update job descriptions, but it’s a task that’s easy to forget or to put off. Many experts recommend tying the updates to annual performance reviews and having employees sign off on them at that time.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the court involved.