Skip to Main Content

Keeping you informed

Fourth Circuit Says ADA Plaintiff Must Show Ability to Perform Essential Job Functions

    Client Alerts
  • March 29, 2024

When reviewing requests for accommodation from sick or injured workers, employers often focus on whether the requested accommodation is reasonable or whether it imposes an undue hardship on the company. Earlier this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) reminded employers that the Americans with Disabilities Act only protects workers who can perform the essential functions of their jobs, regardless of the reasonableness of the requested accommodation.

In Keith v. Volvo Group North America LLC, the plaintiff was involved in a serious automobile accident and missed an extended period of work. He was unable to return to his prior job due to restrictions resulting from the accident and applied for an alternative position. When the employer denied this bid, the plaintiff sued, alleging failure to accommodate his disability by not placing him in the new job. The district court dismissed the claim, and the plaintiff appealed this decision to the Fourth Circuit.

The appellate court agreed with the previous ruling, affirming dismissal of the claim. The Fourth Circuit noted that the alternative job had a 50-pound lifting requirement, and that the plaintiff’s medical restrictions prevented him from bending to lift this much weight. As a result, the plaintiff was not a qualified disabled individual under the ADA because he could not perform an essential function of the job. Absent any accommodation that would allow him to perform this function, the plaintiff was not entitled to a transfer.

When reviewing a request for accommodation, employers should first analyze whether the employee can perform the essential job functions (hopefully set out in the job description) with the requested accommodation or an alternative accommodation in place. If the answer is no, the employer can end the analysis without the need to determine whether the requested accommodation presents an undue hardship.

For more information, please contact me or your regular Parker Poe contact. You can also subscribe to our latest alerts and insights here.