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Ability to Rotate Shifts is Essential Job Function under ADA

    Client Alerts
  • June 08, 2007

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employee eligible for the Act’s protections must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.  A recent string of federal court decisions have addressed the question of whether the ability to work overtime or rotate shifts is an essential job function.  In its new Rehrs v. The Iambs, Co. decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals joined the majority of federal courts in concluding that employers are not required to waive shift flexibility requirements to accommodate a disabled employee.  The case was filed by a diabetic employee whose doctor claimed that a fixed shift would help him control his blood sugar levels.  Iambs contended that shift rotation was an essential job function because it increased productivity through exposing all employees to all aspects of the production process.


The Eighth Circuit agreed with Iambs, and affirmed dismissal of the suit on summary judgment.  Allowing the plaintiff to remain on a fixed shift would unfairly burden other workers by requiring them to work a disproportionate number of less desirable shifts.  The ADA does not mandate accommodations that require other workers to work longer or harder.  Also, the fact that Iambs temporarily accommodated the plaintiff while he tried to stabilize his medical condition does not mean that the employer must grant a permanent accommodation.  This decision reflects an unwillingness on the part of courts to tell employers how that must structure their business operations.  Working hours and scheduling will generally be left to the employer’s discretion.