Can your employer fire you if, because of an accident or illness you are limited from doing one aspect of your job?
Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and its amendments (ADAAA) your employer cannot discriminate against you if you can do the essential functions of your job. The issue that I, as an El Paso Employer representing fired and injured employees, face is the issue of what is an essential function of the job? Your employer often wants to claim that every task you do at your job is an essential function even if it is just a minor or small part of your job.
The case of Kauffman v. Petersen Health Care VII, LLC, 769 F.3d 958 (7th Cir. 2014) is illustrative of this point. I this case, the court held there was a genuine factual dispute (which a jury should decide) regarding the amount of time a nursing home hairdresser had to spend wheeling residents to and from the beauty salon and therefore whether this job task was an essential function of her job.
After surgery to reconstruct her bladder and hold it in place, the employee’s doctor advised her to stop pushing residents who use wheelchairs because that might cause her bladder to dislodge again. She requested that another employee bring residents to and from the salon, but the administrator refused so the employee was forced to quit. The court noted that the administrator estimated that the employee spent 60 to 65% of her workday wheeling residents, but the employee estimated that, at most, she spent up to 12% of her day on this task and usually much less. The court acknowledged that the employee’s estimate might be incorrect, but it found the employer’s estimate highly suspect because this would mean that a hairdresser spends almost two-thirds of her workweek simply bringing residents to and from the salon. The court also noted that after the employee quit, staff assisted the one remaining hairdresser by wheeling residents to and from the salon until a new hairdresser was hired. No evidence showed that using staff in this way was costly to the nursing home or impacted care of the residents. Therefore the Court concluded that this case should not be dismissed but should go to a jury for determination if the task of wheeling residents was really an essential function of her job or simply a minor task.