In determining whether a function is essential, one of the primary things that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will look at is a written job description prepared by the employer before advertising the position or interviewing applicants.
If individuals who hold the position are actually required to perform a function, then the function may be considered essential. To find out, you should answer the following questions:
- Does the position exist specifically to perform this function? For example, when a person is hired to proofread legal documents, the ability to proofread is an essential function because this is the only reason for the existence of the job. Or, for example, a manufacturing company advertises a position for a "floating" supervisor to substitute when regular supervisors on all three shifts are absent. The only reason this position exists is to have someone who can work on any of the three shifts in place of an absent supervisor. Therefore, the ability to work at any time of the day is an essential function.
- Is the function highly specialized? In certain professions and highly skilled positions, you may hire a worker because of his or her special ability or expertise in performing a particular function. The performance of that specialized task would be an essential function. For example, a company wishes to expand its business with Japan. For a new sales position, in addition to sales experience, it requires a person who can communicate fluently in the Japanese language. Fluent communication in the Japanese language is an essential function of the job.
- Are there a limited number of employees among whom the function can be distributed? If you employ relatively few employees, you may require each of them to perform a variety of functions, and the options for reorganizing the work may be more limited. In this type of situation, functions may become essential that might not be considered essential if there were a larger staff. In a larger group, the same functions may not be considered essential because there's always someone who can perform the functions when necessary. In a three-person office, each employee might be required to answer the main telephone line; in a 20-person office, an employee might be excused from that duty because others would be available to perform it.
- Would the job be fundamentally altered if you were to remove the function in question? If the purpose of the job would still be accomplished without performing the function, it might not be an essential one.
- What happens if the function is not performed? If the consequences of failure to perform the function are severe, then the function might be essential. For example, equipment might be ordered only once a week, but if it is not ordered, production comes to a standstill.
The above information comes from BLR's SmartJobs, which includes 700 job description samples, arranged by type of job. Learn more aboutSmartJobs