The labor law gives management the right to assign duties to a position, which totally prevents a union from proposing that the job be restructured for any purpose, e.g., greater efficiency, upward mobility, or even fairness. However, a union can force a redesign of the job’s duties if it can prove the status quo violates a law or makes the employer liable for damages. One of those laws that can force managers to restructure/reassign job duties is the ADAAA, as a federal circuit court just pointed out.

In a private sector case a hairdresser at a nursing home was required two days a week to wheel residents from their rooms to her salon to do their hair. The court said the residents not only weighed between 75 and 400 pounds, but also had to be pushed up ramps at times.  When the hairdresser had an operation on her bladder her doctor restricted her to pushing 20 pounds at most for the rest of her life.  So, she asked management to have other staff wheel the residents to her salon when they needed their hair done.  Management refused saying that its policy was to not accommodate employees with permanent disabilities, leaving the hairdresser no choice but to quit.  It said it had no obligation under the law to permanently redesign a job if she could not handle the physical aspects of it that were required when it hired her.

The hairdresser sued claiming disability discrimination, and as so often happens in employment law cases then the employer did something really stupid to help her case. While the hairdresser’s job was vacant as management searched for a hairdresser capable of pushing a 400 pound person up hill (and willing), it ordered the other staff to push the residents needing wheelchair transportation to the salon so that the remaining hairdressers would be able to handle the extra work.  In other words, it was willing to restructure the jobs of the other staff to accommodate its own management problem, but not to accommodate a disabled employee. On top of that, during the time other staffed moved the residents to the salon there was no evidence that created a hardship, much less an inconvenience for the other staff.

The court ruled against the employer saying,

If a minor adjustment in the work duties of a couple of other employees would have enabled the plaintiff despite her disability to perform the essential duties of her job as a hairdresser, the nursing home’s refusal to consider making such an adjustment was unlawful. We noted in Majors v. General Electric Co….that “circumstances might exist when employees working in teams are able to share duties among themselves, so that such sharing might be a form of reasonable accommodation.” So minor an adjustment would be “reasonable.”  See Kaufmann v. Petersen Health Care VII, (7th Cir. 2014)

When helping a member with a disability, temporary or permanent, do not be reluctant to ask management to redesign their job to accommodate the disability. Ignore any agency argument that only it has the right under labor law to decide the duties of a job. Technically, that is true, but it also must comply with a handful of laws when structuring a job or pay a price, e.g., the Equal Pay Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, etc.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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