Identifying essential functions helps:
The Washington State Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect qualified individuals with disabilities. These individuals, who may be applicants or employees, meet the valid skill, experience, education, or other requirements of a position and can perform its essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation. The ADA also protects non-disabled employees from being perceived by their employer as disabled.
Identify essential functions:
The best time to identify essential functions is when a position is established. An employer can then refer to those functions if it engages in the reasonable accommodation process.
Essential functions are the fundamental, crucial job duties performed in a position. They do not include marginal functions, which are extra or incidental duties. A function may be essential because:
Essential functions must be identified for each position, not job class, and they must be based on the work performed, rather than the capabilities of an individual. A job analysis can help identify essential functions by determining which functions an employee actually performs.
It is also critical to separate the function, which creates a desired outcome, from the method, which is a way of performing a function. An essential function is a completed task, not how that task is completed. Results-oriented language will help ensure this distinction. For example, it may be an essential function of a job to “relocate (as opposed to lift) 50 lb. boxes.”
Questions to ask to determine which functions are essential include:
For example: A floating supervisor job exists to provide a substitute when regular supervisors on day, night, and graveyard shifts are absent. So, an essential function of the job may be to work at any time of day.
For example: Removing the function “provide guidance and resources to clients” from a customer service position would fundamentally alter the job and question the need for it.
For example: It may be an essential function for a file clerk to answer the telephone if there are only three employees in a very busy office and each employee has to perform many different tasks.
For example: A firefighter may rarely have to carry a heavy person from a burning building, but it is an essential function of the job because of the serious consequences of not performing it.
For example: Dual language positions may have essential functions related to speaking a second language fluently. Or, accountant positions may have essential functions that require licensure as a Certified Public Accountant.
If any of the above criteria are met, the function is likely essential. In addition, the terms of a collective bargaining agreement may be relevant to determining a position’s essential functions. It is critical that the essential functions are accurate for the particular position.
No, a function may be essential regardless of the amount of time spent performing it. For example, a pilot is required to take off, fly, and land airplanes. The majority of the pilot’s time is spent flying in the air; however, it is an essential function of the job to land the plane.
Yes, an employer may change the essential functions of a job for business reasons. If the position is filled, the employer should notify the incumbent that the essential functions will be changing and, if possible, involve him or her in the process.
If challenged, management must demonstrate that a function is essential.