- Because a Florida police officer was unable to complete an essential function of his job — maintaining updated certification in use of force — he was not a qualified individual under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Salem v. City of Port St. Lucie, No. 2:17-cv-14431-RLR (11th Cir., Oct. 8, 2019)).
- Theodore Salem sued the City of Port Lucie, alleging, among other things, disability discrimination. The city argued that he was not entitled to the ADA's protections because he did not meet the law's definition of a "qualified individual." Salem argued that he was only unqualified because because the city failed to accommodate his disability.
- A district court granted summary judgment to the city and the 11th Circuit affirmed. The appeals court said Salem was unable to perform an essential function of his job; "he failed to meet his burden of identifying a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to do so because the undisputed evidence reflects a waiver or exemption from training was only available for firearms training, not use of force training," the court said.
Essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An employee who cannot perform the essential functions of a job, either with or without a reasonable accommodation, is not qualified for the job and cannot invoke the protections offered by the ADA.
"Essential functions" can vary depending on the job. Courts have ruled that regular attendance for supervisors can be an essential function, for example. One determined that staying awake was an essential job function for a cable TV/internet technician with narcolepsy whose job involved monitoring outages. Another said and that the ability to work overtime is an essential function for a UPS driver.
Courts often look to job descriptions to help determine the essential functions of a job, and the EEOC has said in a guidance document that "a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job will be considered by EEOC as evidence of essential functions." Because courts often give deference to employers' determinations, written, up-to-date job descriptions that spell out what is essential and what is not essential is key, according to agency's guidance. Experts recommend that job description reviews be tied to annual performance reviews and that employers have employees sign off on them at that time.