Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Jul 06, 2018

Q&A: Rotating shifts may be essential job function

Q&ADisability 

Question: We have approximately 10 employees in one department performing the same job, with 6 working rotating shifts and the other 4 working only on the day shift. One of the employees assigned to the rotating shift brought in a doctor’s note saying he can only work on the day shift due to a medical condition. Do we have to grant his request?

Answer: Perhaps. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability unless it would cause an undue hardship to the business or pose a direct threat to health and safety. This generally requires an interactive process that takes into consideration the employee’s restrictions and the essential functions of his position. Whether you will need to reasonably accommodate your employee under the ADA by allowing him to work only one consistent shift depends upon many factors. Most important is determining if the rotating shift is an essential function of the job.

Essential Functions of a Job Under the ADA

Look to your job description and job postings for the position(s). Do they state that working rotating shifts is an essential function of the position? If not, then it will be difficult to prove otherwise. Review your job descriptions to ensure they are current and include those duties you determine are essential. And during the interactive process, maintain an open dialogue with the employee about job requirements and the employee’s qualifications and restrictions.

Another complication is that you have other employees doing the same work who don’t rotate between shifts. One piece of good news is that if you allow the employee to temporarily trade places with a day shift employee on an experimental basis while waiting for a regular spot on the day shift to open, it shouldn’t affect whether the rotating shift is an essential function of the position.

For more information, see Vigilant’s Legal Guides, ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process, ADA: Reasonable Accommodation Quick Reference, and ADA: Job Reassignment. These particular resources are available to members, who receive unlimited employment law advice for a flat monthly fee (free legal guides available to non-members are available here). If you are not a member, learn more about our membership services and inquire about membership today.

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