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Performing Essential Functions of Position Necessary Even With Leave Donation Program

Employers with Leave Donation Programs may still require employees to perform the essential functions of their position.

Deborah Winston suffered from Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that causes poor concentration, fatigue, and joint swelling, among other symptoms. Employed by the National Weather Service, she used up all of her FMLA leave between 2010 and 2012. Thereafter, she was on leave restriction for one year, which meant that she had to get prior approval for all absences. During that time, she learned she had been approved to participate in the voluntary leave transfer program. That program allowed federal employees to donate annual leave to another employee who needed it for medical care. Ms. Winston received permission to work on a flexible schedule because of the program. However, her request for telecommuting two days a week was denied because her presence at work was essential to her job of serving as a receptionist and routing calls and visitors. Thus, she was effectively stopped from using the leave donation program.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and affirmed the dismissal of Ms. Winston’s claims. Her job required that she be present at work, which she did not dispute. Rather, she claimed that the National Weather Service was required to allow her to participate in the leave program as an accommodation of her disability. The court stated that “even if participation in the program allowed Mrs. Winston to be absent from work, it does not follow that such participation ensured she could perform the essential functions of her job, including physical attendance.” The ADA requires that employees be able to perform the essential functions of their positions with (or without) accommodation. In this instance, Ms. Winston could not.