The Wall Street Journal’s October 30th issue included a seemingly harmless-looking article entitled "Justices to review Chevron worker’s case."

In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review whether an oil company must hire a man with liver problems even though the job he applied for was a threat to his health. Common sense would dictate both parties would not even consider offering or taking the job—this just does not make sense.

The applicant for a job at the oil refinery sued Chevron Oil Corporation alleging violations of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state laws. The ADA law describes a qualified individual as someone who "can perform the essential functions" of the job, but it doesn’t require employers to accommodate someone who poses "a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace."

A divided federal appeals court in San Francisco said this man’s lawsuit could proceed, ruling that the "direct threat" defense didn’t apply to workers or applicants who pose a threat only to themselves. Fortunately, the Equal Opportunity Commission has developed a regulation that extends the exception to workers who pose a threat to themselves. The justices said that they will weigh this regulation as they evaluate the case.

It was interesting to note the federal appeals court in San Francisco was divided in its decision to let the lawsuit proceed. That may be a first, and indicates several judges questioned the common sense of the suit. This is a good example of the major concerns employers have when seemingly well-intentioned laws are passed by Congress and then the legal bureaucracy writes the legislation and regulations that not only extend far beyond the original intention, but break all the unwritten laws of plain common sense.

One of the best examples I can remember is when President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped into a situation where a school system was being challenged by an organization to stop them from having mother/daughter and father/son banquets. The best way to solve these situations is to minimize the unwarranted intrusion of federal and state legislation into the workplace. Just maybe our economy would be even stronger if management and employees could move past these basic common-sense issues and focus on customer satisfaction instead. IBI