Getting to Work on Time Isn’t Always an Essential Job Function Under the ADA

In many situations, workers may sustain certain types of injuries or have a legally defined disability, but still be able to perform many of the functions of their job with some slight adjustments. The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (the “ADAAA”) are designed to protect these workers and help them keep their jobs.

Specifically, the ADA and the ADAAA make discrimination against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment illegal. This generally means that 1) if you are a “qualified individual” and 2) you have a disability, that your employer can’t fire you or take other negative action against you and that where reasonable, your employer must try to take actions to accommodate your needs.

If you have questions about the ADA/ADAAA or believe that you may have been discriminated against, it is important to consult with a skilled Georgia disability discrimination attorney right away.

A recent case – McMillan v. N.Y.C.– looked at just what accommodations an employer must make when an employee has a disability. In this instance, a schizophrenic employee was chronically late, but the employer failed to adjust the work hours to “accommodate” the employee.

Whenever the ADA/ADAAA is involved, the first question to address is does the worker have a disability? A disability is defined as any medical, physiological, or psychiatric condition that substantially limits a major life activity. Temporary conditions or conditions that, although serious, don’t substantially limit any of your major life activities are not covered. Remember, the definition of a disability under the ADA is a legal one, not a medical one.

Here, the worker in question suffered from schizophrenia, a psychiatric condition that substantially limits day-to-day functions and is covered by the ADA. Despite the psychiatric condition, the employee was able to control his condition as long as he took medication. However, the medication made him groggy in the mornings and as a result, he was often late. Although he requested a later start time, his employer denied the request.

The court next considered whether being on time was an “essential job function.” Because the employee worked for the city, which allowed flex time and had been allowed to arrive later for years, the court reasoned that being on time was not essential to performing his job. The next step then was to determine whether with a “reasonable accommodation” the worker could perform his job.

Here, the court determined that not enough facts were on the record to make a final decision, and that a previous court ruling dismissing the case was in error. As a result, the court decided that the case should be allowed to continue in order to determine whether it was reasonable and not overly burdensome to adjust the employee’s hours so that he could both come in and leave later in the day.

Just who is protected by the ADA/ADAAA and under what circumstances is not always clear-cut. It is often determined on a case-by-case basis.

If you believe that you may have been discriminated against due to a disability, please discuss your case with a Georgia disability discrimination lawyer from Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP in an initial case evaluation.