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Written Job Descriptions under the ADAAA

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 1/14/2009
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Does the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which went into effect on January 1, 2009, diminish the importance of having detailed, well-written job descriptions for the purpose of helping employers defend against claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

No. In fact, the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) greatly increases the importance of job descriptions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with a disability only if they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Individuals who cannot perform the essential job functions are not considered qualified individuals with a disability under the ADA, and therefore are not protected by it. Thus, determining a job's essential functions is critical in determining whether an individual who is applying for or occupying a particular position is protected by the ADA. Despite the significance of this determination, the ADA gives employers considerable discretion in determining which functions are essential to a position. Specifically, the ADA provides that "consideration shall be given to the employer's judgment as to what functions of a job are essential." Moreover, the ADA provides that "if an employer has prepared a written description before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job, this description shall be considered evidence of the essential functions of the job."

Given these provisions, job descriptions have always served as a first line of defense against ADA claims. However, the passage of the ADAAA has made job descriptions even more important because the issue of whether an individual is disabled under the ADA "should not demand extensive analysis." Prior to the ADAAA, employers have generally succeeded in arguing that an individual's impairment does not qualify as a disability under the ADA. Since employers may be limited in making this argument under the ADAAA, establishing that an employee is unable to perform the job's essential functions takes on even greater significance when defending against ADA claims. Thus, employers who fail to prepare detailed, well-crafted, and up-to-date job descriptions may not be able to avail themselves of the defenses afforded by the ADA in the context of essential job functions. Therefore, employers should commit the time and effort to drafting such job descriptions for all positions.

Learn more about the ADA in our course "Understanding the ADA, Ed. 4," recently updated to include changes to the law brought about by the passage of the ADAAA.

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Categories: 2009

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