A number of disability rights disputes between employers and employees hinge on the employee's request to be excused from working overtime for medical reasons. Most federal courts have concluded that the ability to work overtime is an essential function of the job, and while the employer must attempt to accommodate the employee to allow them to work overtime, it is not required to provide the employee with a blanket exemption from overtime work.
Earlier this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina and South Carolina), concluded that the inability to work overtime is not, in and of itself a disability under the original version of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Boitnott v. Corning, Inc., the plaintiff was a maintenance engineer who was diagnosed with a mild form of leukemia that did not require medical treatment. However, his doctor limited him to eight hours of work per day due to fatigue related to the condition. Corning responded that the job required the ability to work overtime, and removed him from his prior position.
The plaintiff contended that his leukemia substantially interfered with the major life activity of working, in that it prevented him from working overtime. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, noting that other federal courts considering this issue have concluded that someone able to work 40 hours per week is not substantially restricted in his ability to work.
This case was decided under legal standards in place prior to the 2008 ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Under ADAAA, it is likely that the leukemia itself, even in the absence of significant symptoms, would qualify as an ADA disability. In addition, EEOC rules adopted pursuant to ADAAA, broaden the definition of restrictions that limit persons in their ability to work. The inability to work overtime may qualify as a restriction that would classify restricted employees as disabled under the ADA.
Post-ADAAA litigation in this area will shift from the threshold issue of disabled status to the reasonable accommodation question. Is the ability to work overtime an essential job function? If so, what steps can the employer take to allow an employee with hours restrictions to work some overtime? Can work schedules be changed to accommodate the employee's medical restrictions? Can the disabled employee trade schedules with other employees to allow him to work within his medical restrictions?