Establishing the Essential Functions of a Job

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A vocational expert can help establish an employer’s liability in a wrongful termination or discrimination case by conducting a job analysis. A job analysis can help establish what reasonable accommodations are available, whether an employer provided reasonable accommodations, and whether an employee was capable of performing essential functions of a job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of qualified applicants or employees. An individual who could otherwise perform the essential duties of the job but for their disability may ask their employer for reasonable accommodations. Essential duties of a job are those that are fundamental to fulfill the objectives of the job.

In the case Stone v. City of Mount Vernon, a court found that employer was liable for discrimination because an employee was not hired even though he could perform the essential duties. The plaintiff, Stone, was initially hired as a firefighter and worked in this capacity for two years. An off-duty accident resulted in temporary paraplegia. Following physical therapy, he regained the ability to walk with the assistance of leg braces. Stone passed a test promoting him to lieutenant and requested a return to active duty in the Fire Alarm Bureau, where he could work performing duties of receiving and transmitting alarms of fires, performing paperwork, and assisting in the dispatching center. He was denied employment by Fire Commission and informed he would not be receiving accommodations in the form of alternate duty. The City was initially awarded summary judgment after asserting that Stone could not perform the regular duties of a fire fighter. On remand, the Court of Appeal found that while the plaintiff could not perform the duties of a fire fighter, he could perform the essential functions of the job he was applying for. The argument that Stone could not fight fires in the case of a multi-alarm fire was not pertinent, as there was no evidence to show, in the form of a job description or union contract, that this was an essential function of the Fire Alarm Bureau.

In a similar discrimination case, a vocational expert could be used to perform a job analysis, establishing the duties of a position, whether the job description is accurate, and whether the injured or disabled individual can perform those duties. This analysis could ultimately help establish whether or not an employer discriminated against an injured or disabled applicant in violation of the ADA.


Edmond Provder, owner of Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS), is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. He has worked as a vocational expert witness for over forty years, and has extensive experience documenting the income potential and employment capacity of “disabled” persons.. Contact OAS at 800-292-1919 to discuss how we can help in your case wrongful termination, ADA, or discrimination case.