A recent case brought against Friendly’s Ice Cream in Maine shows the importance of having detailed job descriptions that include physical requirements.
In this case, plaintiff Katherine Richardson alleged that Friendly’s violated the ADA by failing to accommodate her shoulder impingement injury, which required her to undergo surgery. Apparently, she never fully recovered from the injury, which limited her ability to do some manual tasks. Even though Richardson was in a management position, she was expected to chip in and help with everything from doing the fries to cleaning up. Because she was limited in her ability to do these jobs, as the court stated, “Even assuming it is true Richardson’s “primary function” was to oversee restaurant operations, the point does not advance Richardson’s case. The essential functions of the position are not limited to the primary functions’ of the position.”
The court pointed to evidence showing “there were a limited number of employees among whom the performance of the manual tasks at the restaurant could be distributed … This evidence supports findings that these tasks were essential to Richardson’s position.” The court quoted an EEOC guideline, “If an employer has a relatively small number of available employees for the volume of work to be done, it may be necessary that each employee perform a multitude of different functions. Therefore, the performance of those functions by each employee becomes more critical and the options for reorganizing the work become more limited.”
In the end, Richardson’s case failed because even with modifications to her work, she remained unable to perform a number of tasks, including mopping the floor, lifting heavy trash bags, scooping ice cream, and unloading supplies from delivery trucks. This left her unable to perform a substantial number of manual restaurant tasks and therefore, her case failed. The court also stated that, “The law does not require an employer to accommodate a disability by foregoing an essential function of the position or by reallocating essential functions to make other workers’ jobs more onerous.”
Richardson also argued that Friendly’s violated the ADA by refusing to engage in an interactive process to determine whether any reasonable accommodations were available. This argument failed too because Richardson was not able to identify any such accommodation that would qualify. The two accommodations she did identify “performing tasks in a modified manner and delegating tasks to others” were inadequate to enable her to perform a sufficiently broad range of manual tasks.
Lesson learned: This is an insightful case, which you should consider reviewing in its entirety. It reviews the battle of job descriptions and accommodations in a way that provides many helpful hints to employers. Read the full case here. You can also access free job descriptions that have some physical requirements here.