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Part-time schedule may not be ADA solution

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Employees who have used up all available leave may want to return to work part time while they are still healing from an injury or illness. Whether part-time work is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA depends on whether all essential functions of the job can be performed part time.

Recent case: Carlotta worked as an aide for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Her tasks included transporting children, visiting with families and delivering Christmas toys. She also performed administrative work, which included observing and taking notes during parents’ visits with their children. Most of Carlotta’s work involved driving.

She went out on workers’ compensation leave after a car accident in which she injured her back and arms. She used up her accumulated sick and FMLA leave and still wasn’t ready to return because she took medications for pain that left her dizzy and unable to drive. Her doctor recommended that she work only four hours per week in an office setting while she cut down on medications. She asked for the shirt schedule as an ADA accommodation, but the agency turned her down.

Carlotta sued, alleging she should have been reasonably accom­modated.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that with her requested accommodation, she would be unable to perform one of the essential functions of her job—driving. (Texas Depart­­ment of Family and Protective Ser­­vices v. Howard, No. 05-13-00817-CV, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2014)

Final note: The state agency did everything right. It entertained additional leave after Car­­­lotta’s sick and FMLA leave expired. It engaged in the interactive accommodations process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation was possible. It fired Carlotta only after it became clear that she couldn’t perform the essential functions of her job with her requested accommodation.

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