In order to gain legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, qualified disabled persons must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. As pointed out in a new Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case, reasonable accommodation does not include shifting those essential functions to other employees.
Majors v. GE involved a manufacturing employee who injured herself at work, resulting in a permanent 20 pound lifting restriction. This restriction prohibited her from performing her previous job, and she bid for an alternative quality control position that included intermittent lifting. GE concluded that she was not qualified for this position due to the lifting restriction. The company rejected her proposal that another employee move these objects when necessary. She sued, claiming disability discrimination based on GE's failure to accommodate her lifting restriction.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for GE. The court concluded that the plaintiff was not a qualified person under the ADA because she could not perform the essential function of lifting. Even though the activity was intermittent, it was necessary to perform the quality control job. The court stated that asking another employee to perform this function was not a reasonable accommodation because it would entirely relieve her of the essential job function. This was beyond the steps required of employers under the ADA.
This case did not address other accommodations sometimes sought for lifting restrictions. If an employee seeks use of powered lifting equipment or some other mechanical aid, this would not involve a shift of this essential function to a different person. The employer would be required to determine whether this requested accommodation is (1) feasible in terms of performing the necessary work; and (2) presents an undue hardship based on cost or interference with the work process. All steps of this accommodation analysis should be thoroughly documented.