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Home » Determining Whether a Disabled Employee is “Qualified” to Work

Determining Whether a Disabled Employee is “Qualified” to Work

by | Mar 6, 2024 | HR Legal Compliance

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute designed to prevent workplace discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In Florida, any employer with 15 or more workers falls under the purview of the ADA. This legislation mandates that covered employers not only refrain from overt discrimination but also make sincere efforts to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees.

For disabled individuals navigating the job market, a key question arises: What criteria deem one as “qualified” for a position under the ADA? Succinctly put, a disabled worker meets this criterion if they can perform the “essential functions” of the job. This article provides an overview of the fundamental concepts surrounding the ADA’s definition of a “qualified” worker.

What Does it Mean to be “Qualified?”

In the employment context, a “qualified” employee denotes someone possessing the necessary skills, expertise, educational background, and other pertinent job qualifications to fulfill the core responsibilities of a role. Essential functions within a job description encompass fundamental duties rather than peripheral tasks. For instance, being able to operate a vehicle is a crucial requirement for the role of a truck driver, illustrating the concept of an essential function.

Factors Used to Assess a Job’s “Essential Functions”

Disputes frequently arise in disability discrimination cases regarding the designation of a particular function as “essential.” This determination is made on a case-by-case basis. Notably, federal law mandates that courts consider the employer’s perspective on what constitutes an “essential function” for a specific job, although agreement with this interpretation is not obligatory. Other significant factors to contemplate include:

  • Whether the function is intrinsic to the job role;
  • The availability of alternative employees capable of fulfilling the function;
  • The degree of specialization required for the position;
  • The frequency of the function’s performance per week;
  • The adverse ramifications for the employer if the function cannot be carried out;
  • The relevant work experience of current and former employees in similar roles;
  • The stipulations outlined in any relevant collective bargaining agreements.

Reasonable Accommodations for Qualified Employees with Disabilities

The concept of “reasonable accommodations” is central to discussions on disability discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it imposes undue hardship. These accommodations may involve adjustments to work schedules, provision of assistive technology, job task restructuring, or improving facility accessibility. The definition of “reasonable” and “undue hardship” depends on various factors such as the employer’s size and resources, the nature of the business, and the feasibility and cost of the accommodation.

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