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Consider shift change to accommodate disability

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in Human Resources

Generally, employers aren’t responsible for helping their disabled employees with their commutes. For example, unless an employer provides transportation for other employees, it doesn’t have to do so for disabled ones.

But what if an employee needs to change her schedule so she can make the commute to work? Does the employer have to accommodate the request? Perhaps.

Recent case: Jeanette Colwell worked part time for a Rite Aid drug store as a cashier, usually on the 5-9 p.m. shift, but sometimes during the day.

She developed vision problems and became completely blind in one eye. Her doctors told her that it wasn’t safe for her to drive a car at night because her condition limited depth perception.

Colwell asked her boss if she could switch to day shifts only. The supervisor knew that bus service ended at 6 p.m. and that there were no taxis in town. Still, the supervisor said it was Colwell’s responsibility to get to and from work and that it would be unfair to the other employees if Colwell worked only the day shifts.

For a while, Colwell got rides. She continued to press for a shift change, but then quit in disgust and sued.

Rite Aid argued that Colwell wasn’t disabled since she could perform her job with one eye and since driving a car—her only restriction—wasn’t a major life activity. The court, however, said Colwell was disabled.

Rite Aid appealed, arguing it wasn’t required to help an employee with commuting. The appeals court disagreed with the employer’s reasoning. It said the requested accommodation was a shift change, not help commuting. It was the change in work time that would allow Colwell to perform her job. (Colwell v. Rite Aid, No. 08-4675, 3rd Cir., 2010)

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