The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is intended to ensure that individuals with disabilities do not suffer discrimination in the workplace. Even so, the ADA does not grant special status to individuals with disabilities, so that they are treated more favorably than other employees. One of the key requirements of any workplace is productivity. Disabled employees must meet the same productivity standards as other employees.
This concept is acknowledged even by the EEOC: “An employee with a disability must meet the same production standards, whether quantitative or qualitative, as a non-disabled employee in the same job.” The EEOC’s entire discussion of performance standards can be found here: Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities. As you probably know, the ADA requires that “reasonable accommodations” must be made for disabled employees. But, the EEOC also acknowledges that an employer is not required to decrease productivity standards as an “accommodation”: “Lowering or changing a production standard because an employee cannot meet it due to a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation.”
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld productivity requirements in Singleton v. The Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, No. 17-12282, 2018 WL 679389 (11th Cir. Feb. 2, 2018). In Singleton, a physician was required to treat a minimum number of patients each day. Yet, it was undisputed that he was unable to meet those productivity requirements. As a result, even though the physician may have been “disabled,” he was not a “qualified” individual with a disability. A “qualified” individual must be able to perform the essential functions of the job. Because productivity was an essential function, and the physician could not perform that function, he could be terminated without violating the ADA.
Employers should always proceed cautiously when contemplating the termination of a disabled employee. In fact, the EEOC suggests that an employer might have a duty to eliminate “marginal” functions of a job in order to assist an employee in meeting productivity requirements. Therefore, I strongly encourage Alabama employers to conduct a thorough analysis before terminating a disabled employee.