UNDER THE ADA, PART-TIME WORK MAY BE A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 with the goal of, “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” for people with disabilities. An Amendment to the Act was passed in 2008 to reaffirm the core mission of the ADA. The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit recently issued an opinion regarding reasonable accommodation for workers who qualify for protection under the ADA.
“Reasonable accommodation” for employees who qualify for protection under the Act is a complex analysis. The employee must be able to show that he/she could perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation. An “essential function” is a job function that would fundamentally alter the job if the employee could not complete it. The 6th Circuit states, “essential functions are core job duties, not marginal ones.” If the employee appears to be capable of fulfilling the core job functions, the ADA thus requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for that employee, including modifying work schedules for the sake of the employee.
In Hostettler v. The College of Wooster, a human-resources employee at a college underwent severe post-partum depression and separation anxiety after the birth of a child. She received treatment from an obstetrician-gynecologist, who stated that she had one of the worst cases of separation anxiety that he had ever seen. He believed that it was “medically necessary” for her to work only part-time for the foreseeable future.
Hostettler returned to work and worked 5 half-days a week. According to one of her colleagues, she was completing all the work required for her job, and was capable of doing more work at home, which is common in the HR field. Additionally, her post-return to work evaluation was exemplary and did not note any issues with her part time employment status.
Eventually Hostettler was fired from her job. Her immediate supervisor stated that her part-time work was creating a strain on the remaining employees, and that she was leaving work uncompleted. However, the supervisor was not able to point to one specific instance where her part time status led her to not complete her core job functions. The school argued that working full-time at work was a requirement of the job, and her part-time schedule made her incapable of completing the essential function of being at work 40 hours a week. Hostettler subsequently filed suit under the ADA, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) The Civil Rights Act, and Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code.
The federal district court ruled in favor of Wooster, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision. In the 6th Circuit’s opinion, the Court stated that there was a factual dispute over whether Hostettler was completing the core duties of her job after returning to work. Multiple pieces of evidence and testimony showed she was capable of doing her job while only working part time. The Court specifically noted her colleague’s evaluation of her work and her post-return performance review.
The Court held that even though Wooster would have preferred that Hostettler be at the office 40 hours a week, and that it would have made things more efficient and easier if she was there, convenience is not the goal of the ADA. Simply stating that it would make things easier for the employer if the employee worked full time is not enough. The employer must give a reason why full-time work is necessary to the essential job functions. To use the Court’s words,
“an employer cannot deny a modified work schedule as unreasonable unless the employer can show why the employee is needed on a full-time schedule; merely stating that anything less than full-time employment is per se unreasonable will not relieve an employer of its ADA responsibilities.”
The 6th Circuit is clear that employers have a duty to accommodate capable workers who happen to have a disability. This mandate includes allowing workers leave for doctor’s appointments, dialysis, therapy, or anything else that requires time away from work due to one’s disability. In this instance, accommodation even meant part-time work.
If you have a disability, and have been denied time off work or lost your job due to your disability, you may be entitled to reinstatement or compensation.