Eighth Circuit Affirms that Employers Need Not Create New Positions or Alter Job Duties to Accommodate Disabled Workers

June 28, 2018

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that if an employee becomes disabled such that the person can no longer perform an essential function of his or her current position, an employer need not accommodate the employee by offering an alternative position. The court’s decision offers insights for employers navigating how to accommodate the disabilities of their employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Jerry Faidley was working as a package car delivery driver for UPS when he developed back and hip conditions that prompted Faidley’s doctor to restrict him to eight-hour workdays. UPS, however, requires that its delivery drivers work up to 9.5 hours per day. Faidley requested an accommodation under the ADA, to work at his prior job with an eight-hour restriction or move to an alternative position. Among the positions considered was a less physically demanding “feeder driver” position, which entails driving semi-tractor trailers between UPS locations. The Human Resources director initially noted that Faidley “preliminarily appear[ed] capable of performing the essential job functions” of the feeder driver position, despite the fact that working overtime was an essential function of the position. In any event, there were no vacancies for the feeder driver position, and UPS offered Faidley a part-time position.

Faidley refused this offer and brought suit for disability discrimination under the ADA. The district court granted summary judgment to UPS, and Faidley appealed. The case ultimately went before the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its ruling, the court agreed that UPS's denial of Faidley’s request to work eight-hour shifts as a delivery driver did not violate the ADA. The court reasoned that working overtime was an essential function of the delivery driver position because drivers’ workloads were unpredictable, particularly during the holiday season, and drivers often encountered inclement weather. Thus, the court held that UPS was under no obligation to accommodate Faidley’s restricted schedule.

The court also held that UPS could not have reasonably accommodated Faidley by offering him the feeder driver position. Although the position still required overtime and no vacancies were available at the time, the HR director’s notes contained his subjective comment of Faidley's appearing capable of performing the position. Nevertheless, the court concluded that UPS was entitled to summary judgment, as the HR director’s comment was a “preliminary subjective opinion, unsupported by objective evidence.” Further supporting this conclusion was that Faidley and his doctor insisted that Faidley could not work overtime, which the court found to be an essential function of the feeder driver position.

The Faidley decision has several important takeaways for employers. First, having clearly articulated essential functions of job positions becomes key when dealing with requests for accommodations under the ADA. Second, employers are not required to permit an employee to perform a job function that the employee’s physician has forbidden. Third, employers are not required to offer unlikely or impractical accommodations to employees—only reasonable accommodations are required.