Writing a Job Description in Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act
The regulations of the ADA states that an individual with one or more disabilities will be qualified for a position if he/she is able to perform the "essential functions" of the position (with or without accommodation). These essential functions are the basic job duties. It is particularly important, before taking an employment action such as recruiting, advertising, hiring, promotion or firing, to carefully examine each job description for positions in your department to determine which functions or tasks are essential.
What are the essential functions of the job? Below is a list of questions to use in determining the essential functions of a job:
- What standards have you set? For example, an employer can require typists to type 75 words per minute or a cleaning person to clean 16 rooms a day. The EEOC will not challenge the employer to show why lower standards would be appropriate. However, the EEOC will require the employer to show that all employees are in fact held to those stated performance standards.
- Are employees actually required to perform tasks that the employer asserts are essential? An employer may list typing as an essential function of the job. But if the employer has never required someone in the position to type that will indicate that typing is in fact not an essential function.
- Does the position exist to perform a specific task? An individual may be hired to proofread documents. The ability to proofread is an essential function since that is the only reason the job exists.
- How many employees are available to perform the job function? In a large workforce that has periods of heavy demand for labor intensive work, it may also be more critical for each employee to perform various functions during critical times.
- What functions did past employees in the job perform? What do current employees in similar jobs do?
- How much time is spent performing the function? If an employee spends the vast majority of work time at a cash register, that is evidence that operating the cash register is an essential function of the job.
- What is the consequence of not performing the job? Airline pilots spend relatively small amount of their time landing planes. But the consequence of not being able to safely land a plane makes that an essential function of the pilot's job.
An example of a job description along with a sample of interview questions on ability can be found in the Supervisory Guide.