In Crain v. Roseville Rehabilitation and Health Care, the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act.  In Crain, Plaintiff alleged that her employer discriminated against her under the ADA because of her doctor-mandated weightlifting restrictions and failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation.  The employer argued that Plaintiff was unable to perform the essential functions of her job as a Certified Nursing Assistant and Transportation Aide because job description required lifting up to fifty pounds.  Plaintiff contended that despite what was included in the job descriptions, her job, in practice, did not require her to do “heavy” lifting.

Under the ADA, employers must “make reasonable accommodations for the disabilities of an employee who can perform the essential functions of her job with or without accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(b)(5)-(7). An essential job function is determined by considering several factors, including the “employer’s judgment as to which jobs are essential, written job descriptions . . . the work experience of past incumbents in the job, and/or the current work experience of incumbents in the job.”  Accordingly, in deciding whether lifting was an essential function of Plaintiff’s job, the Court analyzed not only the written job descriptions, but also evidence of how the job was performed in practice.  Because the employer could not refute evidence that in practice the job duties were inconsistent with the job description, the Court found that the “official job descriptions . . . [did] not tell the whole story.”

Job descriptions can be helpful in managing leave requests and defending ADA claims when they accurately describe the job’s essential functions. However, if the job description is inaccurate and does not reflect the current reality of the workplace, employers will be exposed to liability.  Employers should continuously revisit their job descriptions to ensure they accurately describe the duties actually performed.