While employers may be required to offer reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers generally are not required to reallocate the essential functions of the employee’s job to other workers.

What type of reasonable accommodation may be appropriate for an employee usually must be determined through the interactive process under the ADA.  But the general rule is that, while offering reasonable accommodations to the employee may involve reallocating the “marginal functions” of an employee’s job to other workers, employers are not required to reallocate the “essential functions” of the employee’s job.  Treanor v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 200 F.3d 570, 575 (8th Cir. 2000).

“Essential functions” are defined as “the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires.”  The EEOC’s regulations under the ADA provide that a job function may be considered “essential” for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  1. The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function;
  2. The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed; or
  3. The function may be highly specialized so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.

Evidence that courts may consider when determining whether a job function is “essential” may include the following:

  1. The employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential;
  2. Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job;
  3. The amount of time spent on the job performing the function;
  4. The consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function;
  5. The terms of a collective bargaining agreement;
  6. The work experience of past incumbents in the job; or
  7. The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n).

Takeaways:  Determining what functions of an employee’s job are “essential” and what functions of the employee’s job are “marginal” is an important part of determining how far an employer must go with respect to accommodating an employee under the ADA.  The interactive process is typically easier to administer when employers decide what job functions are “essential” before an accommodation is requested.