With the enactment of the ADA Amendments Act, there has been much attention focused on the expanded definition of a disability in which many, if not most, medical conditions qualify as a disability under the Act. However, perhaps overlooked, is that an employee who is disabled must still be qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. The Eighth Circuit recently addressed this issue in Melvin v. Victoria, 11-2753 (8th Cir. July 19, 2012), in which the plaintiff was a municipal worker who performed such tasks as patching and repairing curbs, snow plowing, mowing, tree trimming, trash and hazard removal, sewer cleaning and other maintenance work. The plaintiff became injured and stopped working. When the plaintiff was able to return to work he was cleared only to perform four hours of sedentary work. Also, the plaintiff underwent a functional capacity evaluation that determined that he could lift only limited amounts of weight.
Given the restrictions, the plaintiff was unable to return to work to perform the functions of his position. The plaintiff offered as a reasonable accommodation to work only sedentary jobs such as a rink attendant or to have another employee assist him. However, the municipality determined that such an accommodation was not reasonable and terminated the plaintiff’s employment. The plaintiff then brought suit alleging a violation of the ADA.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality, and the Eighth Circuit upheld that decision. The Eighth Circuit ruled that the plaintiff was never able to demonstrate that he could perform the essential functions of the position with or without a reasonable accommodation. Additionally, the accommodations proposed by the plaintiff were not reasonable. “The ADA does not require an employer to create a new position or to eliminate or reallocate essential job functions in accommodating an employee with a disability.” Id. at page 4. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s contention that he could still perform all of the functions of the position, which was in contrast to the plaintiff’s physician’s report, did not need to be accepted by the employer. “The ADA does not require an employer to permit an employee to perform a job function that the employee’s physician has forbidden.” Id.
In short, although the ADA Amendments Act changed the definition of a disability, it did not change the need for a disabled employee to come forward with an accommodation that is reasonable. Simply proposing to work in some other capacity or coming forward with a work-around that is not connected to the position is not reasonable and can be rejected by an employer. The proposed accommodation must still permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.