Q&A: Modified schedule may be ADA reasonable accommodation
Question: A full-time employee is scheduled to return to work after exhausting 12 weeks of medical leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). His doctor restricted him to a maximum of 25 hours per week for at least six months due to disability. Can I deny this disability accommodation request because he’s asking us to create a part-time position for him?
Answer: Not necessarily. You must conduct a reasonable accommodation analysis and determine whether a temporary reduced schedule will enable the employee to perform all the essential functions of their position. You also have a duty to consider other forms of reasonable accommodation that may be effective. For example, employers must consider job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation, which means redistributing nonessential job functions that the employee can’t perform due to disability. If secondary duties are removed, can this employee perform all essential duties in a 25-hour workweek? There is no requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to eliminate or remove the essential functions of a job as a form of reasonable accommodation. You don’t have to modify the reason(s) the position exists or create a brand-new position, but in this case, your employee has asked to work fewer hours in his existing position.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation says that an employer must allow a disabled employee to work a modified or part-time schedule unless the company can establish undue hardship. A modified schedule may involve adjusting when an employee starts and ends work for the day, reordering tasks, providing additional breaks, allowing the use of paid leave, granting unpaid leave, and reducing hours. To establish undue hardship, the company must be able to show that the accommodation requires “significant difficulty or expense” based on specific factors set forth in the law. This analysis is conducted on a case-by-case basis and should be undertaken with the guidance of legal counsel. Contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney if you need assistance with an accommodation request, and see our Legal Guide, ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process, which outlines the legal requirements to establish undue hardship.