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Essential job functions may include shift work

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. We have a three-shift operation, and all employees are required to rotate and work on each shift. We are reviewing an employee’s request to be excused from moving from the day shift to the afternoon shift. The employee’s doctor says that his patient should not work the afternoon and midnight shifts for medical reasons, which we believe are valid. Are we required to honor this request?

A. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities. There is no obligation to accommodate an employee who can't perform the “essential functions” of the job with or without accommodations.

We understand your question to be whether rotating between shifts is or can be an “essential” job function. Job functions are usually work or job-related duties to be performed. A shift assignment is not a duty.

The EEOC will likely take the position that rotating shifts is not an essential function of any job, and therefore you are required to grant the accommodation requested. However, some courts have disagreed and found that shift assignments can be essential job functions, in which case the employer need not accommodate. Such cases are going to be very fact-specific.

It’s best to consult an attorney before denying the accommodation request. 

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