Let’s Weight And See

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.



A landscaper from Maryland called me the other day to talk about one of his Field Supervisors.  On the organizational chart, this position resides above the Grounds Maintenance Foremen who service individual jobs each day, and below the Account Managers who are responsible for a broad array of operational duties related to a monthly book of contract work equal to approximately $80,000-110,000.  The Field Supervisor has been with the company for more than five years, consistently showing solid job performance, excellent horticulture knowledge skills, and a much-valued role in contributing to a positive organizational culture.

That said, the Field Supervisor’s job performance has shown deterioration over the past couple of years, which has consequently introduced thoughts of his possible termination to the landscaper.  By nature, I asked the landscaper to provide me with some background information on the issue to ensure valid advice.  Admittedly, the landscaper volunteered this was a “sensitive” case, which is why he contacted me originally.

When the Field Supervisor was hired, he stood at 5’ 8” tall at 175 pounds.  The Field Supervisor is now 5’ 7” and 410 pounds.  Not yet 40 years old, that is quite a change for anyone.  While the weight gain, in and of itself is not the issue, it has seriously affected the Field Supervisor’s ability to complete his field tasks.

For example, the Field Supervisor is not as physically active as he once was.  He spends most of his time driving from job to job, seldom leaving his truck.  In fact, the driver’s seat of his truck has been repaired due to the damaged springs in the seat itself.   Also, when the Field Supervisor actually does grounds maintenance activities, they are typically completed slowly, imperfectly, and apprehensively in that the Field Supervisor cannot easily bend over to pull weeds, or lift himself up from the ground into a standing position after performing basic irrigation repairs, or walk for “long” distances without getting short of breath.

Realizing the legal implications of this situation, I suggested the following 3-step plan to the landscaper.

  1. Fitness for Duty. I suggested the landscaper send the Field Supervisor to the workers’ compensation clinic to be evaluated as part of a fitness for duty exam to objectively determine if the Field Supervisor can perform the Essential Functions of his position safely, with or without reasonable accommodation.
  2. Four-Step Interactive Process. Presuming consent from the clinic, the next step must be to engage in the four-step interactive process.  Since everyone is a victim, disabled, or offended these days, it must be noted that obesity is a protected attribute under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Thus, by extension, the company must satisfy the EEOC protocol to insulate itself from claims of discrimination.  In brief, here are the four steps that must be addressed by the employee and the company.
    1. Identify the Essential Functions of the employee’s job. These should be clearly summarized on every company job description.
    2. Clarify which of those Essential Functions, the employee has difficulty in completing due to a disabled condition.
    3. Generate a list of “reasonable” accommodations the company can make thereby enabling the employee to overcome extant limitations.
    4. Choose that/those reasonable accommodations to be implemented as assistance to the employee, while concurrently not demonstrating undue hardship to the company.
  3. Performance Expectations. With Steps 1 and 2 completed, the landscaper must specify the weekly/monthly performance expectations (e.g., job quality, field training, grounds maintenance tasks, equipment operation) for the Field Supervisor and then hold him accountable to those standards.

I apologized to the landscaper for being so bureaucratic; this is the way human resources is now conducted.  He then said, if after all that, and the Field Supervisor still cannot do his job, “can we then terminate him?”

In response, I said, “Let’s weight and see.”

He risibly acknowledged the homophone, chuckled politely, and pledged to update me as appropriate.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.