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Rotating Shift Deemed Essential Job Function

    Client Alerts
  • September 14, 2012

Many employers have moved to non-traditional work schedules to meet production or other business needs. Rather than working a set schedule, employees are required to rotate between various shifts. In a number of cases, employees with mental or physical disabilities have contended that irregular hours exacerbate their conditions, or interfere with treatment. Federal courts have been asked to determine whether employers are required to exempt disabled employees from rotating shifts as a form of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the ability to rotate working shifts is an essential job function, and that employers are not required to waive this requirement under the ADA. In Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corp. Services., Inc., the plaintiff suffered from diabetes. Her doctor recommended that she move from rotating shifts to a set-day shift schedule to better manage her blood sugar and high blood pressure. The employer declined to change the shifts for her job, but offered her transfer to an alternative position that used a set daily schedule. The employee rejected this alternative and sued, claiming failure to accommodate under the ADA.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court concluded that the ability to work a rotating shift was an essential job function. It allowed employees in this position to work with all other employees on various shifts and in various locations. Exempting the plaintiff from this requirement would have unfairly burdened other employees who would be required to work more night and weekend shifts. Notably, the Eighth Circuit refused to allow the employer's consideration and study of the request as evidence that shift rotation was not an essential function.

Under the ADA, employers are not required to reallocate essential job functions as an accommodation. In most cases, courts have held that shift schedules, the ability to work overtime and other working hour requirements are essential job functions.