Is Attendance An Essential Function of Your Job?

February 23, 2014

If you take a leave of absence from work because of a disability, do you know if you are entitled to return to your job? Your employment rights depend on a variety of factors, so it is always important to check with an experienced Atlanta employment attorney if you have any questions about your rights under the law.

A recent case looked at the United Parcel Service Inc.'s policy of discharging employees who can't return to work after 12 months of leave, and determined that this policy may be unlawful under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) or the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The policy in question allegedly provided that “attendance” was an essential job requirement, an illegal provision under the ADA/ADAAA.

The Facts

In EEOC v. UPS, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois looked at arguments surrounding UPS’s requirement that workers to return to work after 12 months. In this instance, the lawsuit alleged that the company had policy of terminating injured employees following year long leaves of absence, without providing reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, This policy raised the question is being healthy enough to work (100% healed in this situation) a medical requirement or a function of the job? If the requirement is based on your health, then it may be discriminatory because it screens out – or tends to screen out – individuals with disabilities. As explained by the court – “The twelve-month policy can be considered a qualification standard— [and improper] if attendance is a medical requirement that an individual must meet in order to maintain his or her position with UPS—and not an essential job function.”

The issue arose after a worker who joined UPS in 1990, took a 12-month leave of absence in February 2006 after she began experiencing symptoms of multiple sclerosis. She returned to work briefly, but then experienced additional medical issues and requested additional time off. However, UPS allegedly failed to make efforts to reasonably accommodate her request.

The court explained that qualification standards are “the personal and professional attributes including the skill, experience, education, physical, medical, safety and other requirements established by a covered entity as requirements which an individual must meet in order to be eligible for the position held or desired.” On the other hand, essential job functions are “the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires.” The court explained that, “It can't be said too many times: The key to avoiding trouble under the Americans with Disabilities Act, is to be constantly asking the question ‘Can we get this employee back on the job with a reasonable accommodation?' and certainly not to be asking only ‘Has this employee been on leave long enough for us to get rid of him?' 

In this case the court explained that "UPS allegedly made a practice of focusing on the wrong question.”

If you have questions about a work policy or believe that you have been discriminated against because of a disability, please contact the top Georgia disability discrimination attorneys at The Buckley Law Firm LLC for an immediate consultation.