- The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeals court's ruling that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not require Rite Aid to exempt a pharmacist with trypanophobia — fear of needles — from administering immunizations.
- The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held earlier this year that injections were an essential job function for Rite Aid pharmacists. Because the ADA does not require employers to remove essential functions as an accommodation, the employer didn't run afoul of the law when it fired the employee because of his fear of needles, the court held.
- The 2nd Circuit's ruling, which will remain intact, overturned a $2.6 million jury award for the pharmacist.
The ADA requires that employers provide accommodations for workers with disabilities, but it doesn't require them to remove "essential functions" from workers' duties. Instead, accommodations can include removal of marginal functions, reassignment, leave, removal of workplace barriers and more.
In this case, the pharmacist alleged that there were several accommodations that could have enabled him to do his job but most of them — like a request to hire a nurse to administer immunizations — would have removed an essential function from his job, the court said. (He also alleged that Rite Aid should have transferred him to a lower-level position, but the employer said that it offered that accommodation and the employee didn't accept.)
The case highlights the need to draw a distinction between employees' marginal and essential duties. While the ADA instructs courts to look at job descriptions, that's not always enough. (An accurate delineation in a job description, however, can be very helpful.) That's because the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's regulations go further, calling on courts to look at the reality of the workplace. Job descriptions are just one piece of the puzzle; time spent performing functions or the consequences of not performing certain functions (like prison guards who must be able to subdue inmates, albeit rarely) all come into play.
This is why experts regularly recommend that HR ensure that job descriptions are accurate and up to date. Some even suggest having employees sign off on them every year during their performance review.