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How To Determine The Essential Functions Of A Job


What is an "essential function" of a job for purposes of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar laws varies from job to job and employer to employer.

The term "essential functions" means the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term does not include the marginal functions of the job.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulation §1630.2(n)(3) provides a partial list of the factors to be considered when determining if a particular job function is essential. These include:

  • the employer's judgment as to which functions are essential; 
  • written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for a position; 
  • the amount of time spent performing the function; 
  • the consequences of not performing the function;  
  • terms of a collective bargaining agreement (if it does not violate the ADA); 
  • work experience of past people in the job; 
  • whether other employees are available to perform the same function.
  • the degree of expertise required to perform the function

How much weight is given to which factor depends on the particular situation.

What Makes A Job Function Essential

A job function may be considered "essential" for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The function may be essential as the position exists solely to perform that function. 
    • Example: An employee is hired as a proofreader. The ability to proofread accurately is an essential function, because this is the reason why the position exists.
  • The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed. 
    • Example: An office has three clerical staff who have the responsibility of answering telephones, posting invoices, typing, etc. Of the three clerical, one cannot answer telephones due to a disability. Because there are two other clerical personnel within the office who can answer the telephones, the task would not be considered essential. However, if the same office had only one clerical person, it would be considered essential that the person be able to answer the telephone.
  • The function may be highly specialized so that the person in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function. 
    • Example: An agency wants a computer database system developed to track procurement expenditures. For this position, the person hired would have to be knowledgeable in programming a computer. Skill in computer programming would then be considered an essential function of the job.

Following are ideas to help you determine what the "essential functions" of your job are:

  • Look at the job description. Although it only serves as a guide, it at least provides an idea of what your employer considers to be essential.
  • Is there a collective bargaining agreement that controls your job? If so, how does the agreement describe your job?
  • Make a list of all the various parts of your job. How much time per month is spent on each function?
  • What would happen if you don't perform a particular function?
  • What experiences have people who have worked the job in the past had?
    • Did they do each of the functions you do?
    • What happened if they didn't do the functions you can't do?
  • What are the experiences of people who are doing similar jobs at present? What parts of their job appear to be essential and which ones aren't?

A few examples may help you determine the essential functions of your job:

  • A secretary: The essential part of the job may be typing, filing and answering the phone. Getting your boss's coffee is not essential.
  • A warehouse-person: Driving a forklift may be the main (essential) function of the job. On the other hand, if most of your time is spent on the computer tracking supplies, and creating and mailing packages, and other employees drive forklifts almost full time, perhaps driving the forklift is not essential to your job.
  • A chemist: If you are a chemist, and only about 5% of your job involves communicating with the public, you can perform the essential functions of your job if you can do your lab work, even if you can no longer communicate with the public.

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