Employee Handbooks are critical to operating a business. They provide employees with valuable information on their rights and responsibilities and offer management a set of guidelines to follow to ensure that these rights and responsibilities are honored or satisfied. In my opinion, of equal importance are employee Job Descriptions. You will agree with me after hearing about the recent decision from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In March of 2016, 4th Circuit Court ruled in Stephenson v. Pfizer, Inc. that the plaintiff, a former traveling pharmaceutical sales representative, was entitled to a trial to determine the validity of her claim of discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer had moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the traveling sales representative, who was fired after she developed an eye condition that rendered her unable to drive, could no longer meet the travel requirements of her job. No driving = no travel = can’t make sales. Seems simple enough, yes? Unfortunately, the employer did not have a written job description listing driving as an essential function of the job. The Court found the lack of memorialization of the importance of driving meant that it was an issue of fact whether driving – for a traveling salesperson – was truly an essential job function.
An individual is only protected by the ADA if he or she is “qualified,” that is, able to perform the “essential functions” of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. The ADA defines an “essential function” as “fundamental job duties of the employment position that the individual with a disability holds.” The ADA only requires accommodations that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. While the plaintiff in Pfizer will face an uphill battle at trial to show that, based on other factors, driving was not an essential function of her job, had the job description made this clear, the employer may have had the dismissal of the case upheld by the 4th Circuit.
The lesson – have written job descriptions prepared for each employee position at your workplace. Most importantly, be sure these job descriptions are appropriately thorough and accurate. If you have questions on how to prepare proper Job Descriptions for your employees, please contact me. Let’s avoid unnecessary trials, shall we? Click here to subscribe to future blog posts on the ADA and other employment law matters.