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Physical Requirements and When to Use Them


Be sure to check the bottom of this page for printable user guides.

What Are Our Responsibilities?

The goal of recruiting is to match a quality candidate with a quality position for the right amount of time. Often a quality candidate may happen to live with a physical or mental disability. These candidates can still be qualified and hardworking, capable of performing the essential duties of the task so long as they're provided with reasonable accommodations to work through their disability. Our job as employers is to welcome these candidates into the hiring process, give them an equal opportunity at earning the job, and then provide these accommodations to help them succeed.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides legal protections for our disabled employees and charges us with the responsibility for accommodating them. Disabilities include any long-term impairment that limits "major life activities," such as the ability to walk, see or hear, or reason. As so-called "assistive technology" advances, we have more and more accommodations at our disposal to support disabled employees, from ramps and handrails to computer accessibility software. Especially in most office environments, disabilities are not the barriers to workplace success that they once were, and OU is committed to providing any support that is within our means.

When Do We Include Physical Requirements?

Still, some positions include essential tasks that simply cannot be performed by people with certain disabilities no matter the accommodation. These more often include manual trades and positions that require physical exertion, such as maintenance or nursing. So if an employee is required by the nature of the job to be on their feet for long periods of time, we may declare this to be a physical requirement. Similarly, a job where driving is an essential duty can require the ability to see and hear, as well as a Driver's License, which excludes other disabilities as well.

All positions that include physical requirements must draw them from the university-approved list. Be sure to become familiar with the list when you're working on your positions. If an employee simply cannot succeed without an ability listed there, no matter what we do to support them, then it can be listed as a requirement. If any requirement is in question, you can call or email HR and we will be happy to assist you.

Writing about Physical Requirements in the Job Description

As we write the job descriptions in our requisitions, it's important to include the physical requirements. It is an important service to candidates with disabilities to let them know of any potential barriers there may be in taking the position, and any such candidate would want to know before applying. This is especially important because, by law, we cannot ask them whether they have a disability during their job interview. We can, however, ask them whether they can perform the essential functions of the position with or without accommodation. If the candidate states they are unable to perform an essential job function because of a disability, we must then consider whether it is possible to reasonably accommodate the disability.

A well-written job description is also useful in defending against a claim of disability discrimination. Any charge of discrimination brought under the ADA will hinge on whether the candidate could perform the essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation. A well-written job description is crucial to establishing our defense that the candidate could not have performed the essential duties.

Language about physical requirements must be compliant with ADA standards and not be unnecessarily exclusionary.
Suppose I make a position for a new Administrative Assistant in my department. This employee will be required to move from one floor to another in our building. We have an elevator that is wheelchair accessible. So I cannot include the ability to walk as a physical requirement.

Think outside traditional barriers. What I want to know is whether someone is mobile enough to perform the essential duties. The ability to walk is not necessary in order to be mobile.

Remember that physical requirements can only be included for essential duties. We cannot include physical requirements for any non-essential tasks the employee may be given.
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