Sometimes common sense seems to provide the answer to an “essential function” question, but not always. For example, we posted recently about a case where the issue was whether hearing was an essential function of a lifeguard position. Common sense may suggest the answer is “of course” but then we noted that the lifeguard with the record for “saves” was deaf.  Hmm, maybe there’s more to answering this question than common sense.

But sometimes common sense prevails. In a recent case, the issue was whether driving a fire engine with lights and sirens is an essential function of a firefighter’s job. The plaintiff, a firefighter blind in one eye, argued that the other two members of his crew could do the driving. Rejecting that argument, the court said “lives depend on the ability of him and his crew to respond quickly to life threatening situations…..[which] involve risk not only to members of the general public, but also direct risks to those [plaintiff] works with on a daily basis.” In a footnote, the court speculated: “One wonders what would occur if [plaintiff’s] co-workers were injured performing their duties and [plaintiff] was unable to safely transport them for treatment.” (Rorrer v. City of Stow, N.D. Ohio February 4, 2013).

Common sense prevailed. Workplace disability management wisdom is knowing when common sense prevails and when it is merely masquerading as a stereotype.