The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Essential vs. Marginal Function

Reference Number: MTAS-1063
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: February 11, 2016
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When discussing ADA the term “essential function of the job” is used quite frequently. This is because all individuals are required to be able to perform the essential functions of their job either with or without accommodations.

It is important to be able to distinguish between an essential function and a non-essential function such as a marginal function. To determine this, employers should consider the following items:

  • Does the position primarily exist to perform that function? For example, if someone works as a bank teller supervisor, is the reason this position exists to have someone who can be present during bank hours to provide direction to tellers? If so, the ability to be “present” is an essential function of the job.
  • Are there other employees who can perform those tasks or that function? Example, if filing is an insignificant part of the job, can someone else file for Judy since she is visually impaired?
  • Is the function highly specialized requiring specific expertise, training, and education? Was this person hired for expertise in this area? For example, does the customer service position require the employee to speak Spanish?
  • Will the absence of this function require the employer to have to hire an additional person or find a replacement? (If an accommodation would require the employer to hire additional staff, than it is likely not a reasonable accommodation).
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