My Mechanic is Going Blind

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Ohio called me the other day with some very sad news. His long-time Mechanic has been experiencing ongoing ocular degeneration to the degree that the Mechanic’s work performance has suffered noticeably, with a prognosis that blindness could be inevitable. The business owner did not know what steps to take, issues to consider, or appropriate words to say.

Aside from personal remorse and offering support to the Mechanic, I reminded the business owner that this incident was not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) since the company has fewer than 50 employees, though it falls under the purview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Predicated on that legal context, as distasteful as it may seem, it was incumbent upon the business owner to respond in a fashion that ensures no procedural technicality would be missed, thereby minimizing risk in potential litigation. Accordingly, I proposed a three-step plan to the business owner.

First, as required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the business owner must participate in the Four-Step Interactive Process with the Mechanic:

1.) Analyze the particular job involved and determine its purpose and essential functions. This first step usually involves a review of the person’s job description and visual inspection of the job itself to accurately identify the “essential functions” of the employee’s position.

2.) Consult with the individual with the disability to ascertain the precise job-related limitations imposed by the individual’s disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation. In this step, each essential function is discussed to determine the degree to which its successful completion can be performed in light of the manifest disability.

3.) In consultation with the individual to be accommodated, identify potential accommodations and assess the effectiveness each would have in enabling the individual to perform the essential functions of the position. This step engages in collaborative brainstorming between the employer and the employee to generate possible modifications to the disabled employee’s job (e.g., ancillary equipment, modified work schedule, relocation), thereby allowing the continuation of effective job performance by the employee.

4.) Consider the preferences of the individual to be accommodated and select and implement the accommodation that is most appropriate for both the employee and the employer, absent any undue hardship to the company.

Second, based upon the results from the four-step interactive process vis-à-vis reasonable accommodations, monitor the Mechanic’s job performance with extreme vigilance so the Mechanic’s condition does not produce a workers’ compensation claim for either himself or another employee due to faulty workmanship. The business owner should also provide liberal time off to the Mechanic to attend physician visits, treatment sessions, etc. And if necessary, allow the Mechanic to train a possible successor as part of any transition out of the company.

Third, if the Mechanic’s visual impairment deteriorated further, the business owner could suggest various resources (e.g., state disability, National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, American Council of the Blind of Ohio) that could be available to the Mechanic. Ultimately, the Mechanic would likely have to petition the Social Security Administration for benefits.

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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.