Can you demote a health-impaired employee?

It was disclosed some months after his employment that Jeffrey Irving, a crane operator in the maintenance department, was an epileptic. On two occasions, he had completely passed out and fallen during his seizures.
By Raymond Dreyfack September 1, 1999

It was disclosed some months after his employment that Jeffrey Irving, a crane operator in the maintenance department, was an epileptic. On two occasions, he had completely passed out and fallen during his seizures.

His boss, Maintenance Supervisor Art Janklow, spent more than one sleepless night worrying about what action, if any, he should take. Irving was a family man with a good work record. He needed the job and in a tight labor market, he would have difficulty relocating.

Janklow was aware of the two seizures that had been reported to him. He was unaware of how many others might have taken place in the past. Fortunately, Irving had not seriously injured himself thus far, although his face and one arm had been bruised. But the supervisor couldn’t deny the reality that crane operator was a dangerous job for a person afflicted with Irving’s illness to have. If he retained Irving in this classification, should serious injury take place, it would be his responsibility.

Janklow decided he had to face this reality. He learned that a job opening existed in the assembly department that would not constitute a hazard for a person with epilepsy. Confronting Irving with the situation, Janklow explained his safety concern and offered to transfer him to the assembly department.

The worker frowned. “That would mean a cut in pay, wouldn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so. About 20%.”

Irving’s frown deepened. “I can’t do that. I’m in a financial hole now.”

“I’m sorry, it’s the best I can do.”

Irving’s frown deepened. “You can’t downgrade a man because of a physical affliction.”

Question: Can Janklow remove Irving from a job he considers unsafe?

Marshall’s decision: Plant Engineer Harry Marshall told the supervisor, “When you told Irving that getting him transferred was the best you could do, you were leveling with him. Difficult as it may be to make life harder for him financially, safeguarding the health and well-being of subordinates is a supervisor’s first and foremost responsibility. You had no choice in the matter.”