Under the ADA, a 15-Minute Duty Could Be an Essential Job Function

By Eric B. Meyer

Kolja Vraniskoska worked as an Environmental Services Technician for Franciscan Communities, Inc., a nursing home.

Ms. Vran– (eh, let’s go with Ms. V) — had several responsibilities as an ES Tech, one of which was pushing and unloading a linen cart. Franciscan required that each ES Tech take a linen cart stocked with fresh linens and transport it from the laundry to their unit by pushing or pulling it down the hall.

During the day, the linen cart remained stationary as the ES Tech took fresh linens from the cart. At the end of the day, the ES Tech had to push the linen cart back to the laundry. Transporting the linen cart took approximately 15 minutes each day.

Ms. V gets hurt

During the course of her employment, Ms. V suffered a wrist injury. Initially, during recovery, her doctor advised that Ms. V should not use her left hand at all. So, Franciscan allowed Ms. V to perform light duty.

Eventually, Ms. V’s wrist improved to the point where should could lift up to five pounds. But, her condition never improved. So, Franciscan, which had a policy of providing temporary light duty during recovery, told Ms. V that she had 45 days in which to find another suitable position within the company, or be fired.

Ms. V gets fired and sues

And I wouldn’t be writing this post unless Ms. V got fired, so, you know she did.

Among other things Ms. V claimed (in Vraniskoska v. Franciscan Communities, Inc.) that Franciscan violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate her disability.

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While the parties agreed that Ms. V was disabled, they disagreed about whether she was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, the parties disputed whether using the linen cart, a task that took up only fifteen minutes of the work day, was an essential part of Ms. V’s job.

Ms. V loses

In granting summary judgment to Franciscan (opinion here), the court found that operating the linen cart was an essential task; one which, on paper, was necessary for ES Techs to be able to perform their jobs. Further, the Court concluded that this function existed in practice as well. Moreover, Franciscan, which was entitled to substantial deference in determining which job duties are essential, had a valid reason for including it among the various duties of the ES Tech position.

Thus, just as twerking has transcended its 15 minutes of fame into our permanent vernacular, so too may a discrete 15-minute task be so essential to ones job, that the inability to perform it makes all the difference between winning and losing a disability-discrimination claim.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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