From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
One of the most common questions consultants at JAN answer in regards to employees with epilepsy concerns driving. Driving with epilepsy may be restricted due to the frequency and types of seizures, as well as individual state guidelines. If an employee with epilepsy has been prohibited from driving, reasonable accommodations may be needed to allow the employee to continue to work.
Understanding the essential functions of a position is crucial in determining accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) an employer never has to remove an essential function from an employee's job duties (but can do so if it chooses). Factors to consider when determining if a specific job task is an essential function of a job include: whether the job exists to perform the function in question, how many other employees are available to perform the function, the degree to which the function may be highly specialized, the employer's judgment, the time spent performing the function, and the consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function.
Let us look at some examples of whether driving is an essential function. Driving is an essential function of a soft drink delivery truck driver; the position exists to drive and deliver soft drinks. Driving is an essential function of a school bus driver; the job exists to pick up students and drive them to and from school. What about an assistant bank manager? An essential function of this position is making bank deposits; driving to the bank would not be an essential function, making the deposit at the bank would be.
Now let us look at some accommodation ideas to help keep an employee with epilepsy working with a driving restriction. Job restructuring is an accommodation that can be provided to allow the employee who is not able to drive to continue working. Job restructuring can alter when and/or how a function, whether essential or marginal, is performed. In the example of the assistant bank manager, the employer would need to look at accommodations that could allow the employee to make the deposits. Could another employee drive her to the bank? Could the employer provide a taxi? Could the employee make the deposit as a coworker drives her home? Or could another employee make the deposits while the assistant manager takes on other marginal functions that do not require her to travel away from the bank?
Other possible accommodations to assist an employee who is unable to drive include: pairing the employee with a co-worker who can drive to meetings or events, allowing telework or work from home, transferring the employee to a position where driving is not an essential function, adjusting the employee's schedule so the employee can access public transportation, or helping facilitate a carpool with co-workers for transportation to/from work.
Creative accommodation solutions to employment difficulties that arise due to a disability can make all the difference in an employee's ability to continue working in the face of these difficulties.