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Non-Essential Job Functions

We all know intuitively that there are both essential and non-essential duties in our jobs, but classifying them officially is important. Knowing the difference can be challenging, and getting it wrong can have legal consequences. This article will help you better identify the differences in these types of job functions, as well as understand why it’s significant.

What Are Non-Essential Job Functions?

Non-essential job functions are simply that: non-essential. Although these duties are less vital than other job functions, they still exist and are needed by the organization. These job duties are often more optional or adjustable than essential ones.

Essential vs. Non-Essential Job Functions

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination against a qualified applicant or employee because of a disability. They define essential functions as the basic job duties an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. (Accommodation is to adjust a job or work environment so a person with a disability can perform their job duties, like building a wheelchair ramp or buying software to help people with visual impairments use a computer.)

In other words, if a candidate can complete essential job duties with accommodation, you may not discriminate against them in the hiring process. Therefore, it’s important legally to clearly define which duties are essential and which are not, and label them as such in the job description.

Why You Need to Know If a Function Is Essential or Non-Essential

There are several reasons why you need to know if a function is essential or not. Some reasons are related to the law, whereas others are simply good for your business. It’s important for an employer to identify if a function is essential or not when writing job descriptions.

  • Compliance. Adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps both the employer and employee. One of the main reasons it’s important for a job description to include both essential and non-essential job functions is because it can protect employers when faced with discrimination claims from employees. Additionally, employees who are able to perform the essential functions of their job are protected from potential discrimination from an employer. Not complying with this law can leave a company subject to discrimination claims.
  • Set candidate expectations. Candidates need clear expectations of a position’s job functions for multiple reasons. They need to understand what their potential new role will consist of to see if it aligns with what they are searching for. They also need to assess if they are qualified for the position, and looking at the essential job functions will help to do that. Additionally, knowing the essential job functions can help candidates prepare to request an accommodation, if appropriate.
  • Set employer expectations. It’s important to clearly communicate which functions of a job are essential or non-essential to set clear expectations with the employer as well. Hiring managers should be familiar with which functions are essential or not as they are posting positions and looking for qualified new team members. A hiring manager is one of the best people to determine what functions of a job are essential or not. In addition to knowing the essential job functions, they should be familiar with the ADA, what potential accommodations may look like, and how to address an accommodation request appropriately.

How to Know If a Job Function Is Essential or Not

It’s not always easy to know if a job function is essential or not. We know it’s important to make the distinction, but how is it done? There are several ways to determine if a job function is essential or non-essential. The following are a few questions you can ask yourself when evaluating the functions of a specific job.

What’s the Purpose of the Job?

If the function is the main purpose of the job, it’s almost surely essential.

For example, one of the main reasons for the existence of a Software Developer is to develop software, so it’s safe to say that is an essential job function. Every job has countless functions that have to be performed over time, but that doesn’t make them all essential. Most jobs have clear duties that are the leading reason for their creation and can be easily identified as essential job functions.

Who’s Available to Perform the Function?

One way to know if a job function is essential or not is to determine who is available to perform it. If it can be easily performed by others and there are others readily available to perform it, it likely isn’t classified as essential. If the function has a limited number of employees who can perform it, then it is more likely to be essential.

Is the Function Highly Specialized?

When a job function requires a specific expertise, that makes it highly specialized, which in turn makes it essential. One example of this is a customer service agent who needs to speak Italian to help Italian customers. The requirement to speak a specific language makes it an essential job function. Other examples include knowing an exact coding language, having a minimum number of years of experience, completing certain schooling, licensure or certifications, and more.

Examples of Non-Essential Job Functions

The characteristics of non-essential job functions can be less clear than those of essential job duties. These functions may have the ability to be easily performed by other employees, not be critical to the job, be performed much less frequently, or not be highly specialized. Here are a few examples.

Prior Knowledge of Company Tools

Knowing how to use company tools is often needed to perform a job efficiently; however, these tools can generally be taught to new employees. There are some tools that can be essential to have prior knowledge of, but common tools like Microsoft Office or Google Workspace may be widely used by a company and are relatively simple to learn.

Supporting Coworkers

Obviously, the ability to help coworkers in their positions is a quality employers want all employees to possess. However, it’s something that is more implied in job descriptions rather than an official stated essential function. This can be more of a cultural desire than a skill or expertise requirement, depending on the company. Although it may be listed as a job function, it’s likely not essential.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

Employees are often asked to look for areas of improvement in company processes, products, etc., especially when they are a new employee with fresh perspectives. Although this may be the main purpose for some jobs, it’s not an essential function for all. Plenty of jobs can be performed without employees looking for areas of improvement, so even if it could benefit the company, it’s not necessary to list it as an essential job function.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Non-Essential Job Functions

Who decides whether a job function is non-essential?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the employer is responsible for looking at the business needs and determining the essential functions of a position. Another reason the employer should determine the essential and non-essential functions of a position is because the employer best knows the position, the purpose behind it, and what is needed from a candidate.
Is driving an essential or non-essential function of a job?
It depends on the job. Incorrectly stating driving as a non-essential job function could cause legal issues. Making it an essential job function does not prevent an employee from using a reasonable accommodation to perform the duty, and will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If they cannot perform the duty even with reasonable accommodation and it is necessary for the job, they likely aren’t a good fit. Be thorough in your evaluation of a job description to identify if driving should be classified as essential or not. If driving is listed as an essential job function, make sure to include the requirement of a valid driver’s license as well.
Natalie De Spain

Natalie De Spain

Natalie graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management in 2020. Following her schooling, she completed an additional HR internship and is currently an Associate HR Operations Specialist. She loves working in HR and fully intends to further her education alongside her career.

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