When Transfer Is Not Required Under the ADA


Transfers to another job position may be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a transfer is not required under all circumstances, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained.

As employers likely know, the ADA protects individuals with disabilities who are qualified to perform the essential functions of their job position, with or without a reasonable accommodation. In Johnson v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., the employee was terminated after being on medical leave for 12 months without providing a return-to-work date. She sued, alleging that she was qualified to perform the essential functions of a job to which she sought to be reassigned.

The Eleventh Circuit, however, rejected her claim for several reasons. First, the job in question was a seasonal position, and the relevant collective bargaining agreement prohibited the employer from placing the employee in a seasonal position. Second, the job required full-time availability during the season, whereas the employee was only available part-time. Third, the job required training that, under company policy, she could not complete while on medical leave. Thus, she was not qualified for the job.

This case reminds employers that the ADA does not require them to violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. And if a job truly requires full-time availability, part-time availability will not be sufficient to qualify. Finally, although in this case, the Eleventh Circuit credited the argument that the company’s policy prohibited the required training for the job, we note that, depending on the circumstances, waiving a company policy may be required if it enables the employee to perform the job’s essential functions.