Modified work schedules are receiving increasing attention as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. On May 15, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued four new “Question and Answer” guidance documents (available at www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm) which highlight specific types of reasonable accommodations for persons with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and intellectual disabilities. All four documents listed a modified work schedule as a suggested accommodation. But what exactly is a modified work schedule? And when is a modified schedule reasonable or unreasonable, regardless of the impairment at issue? The questions present complex, fact-intensive problems. Fortunately, recent case law across the country provides some practical guidance for employers and employees alike.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against a “qualified individual with a disability” because of a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112; 29 C.F.R. § 1630.4. The ADA also requires employers to grant a reasonable accommodation if it would enable an individual to perform the essential functions of the job, unless the employer demonstrates that the accommodation would impose undue hardship to its business. 42 U.S.C. § 12112; 29 C.F.R. § 1630.9. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or to work practices that allows the disabled individual to enjoy equal employment opportunity. For example, time off for medical appointments and ergonomic office equipment can be reasonable accommodations.
Under the ADA, a modified work schedule can be a reasonable accommodation. According to informal guidance from the EEOC, a modified work schedule can involve adjusting arrival or departure times, changing shift assignments, providing periodic breaks, altering when certain work functions are performed, allowing an employee to use accrued paid leave, or providing additional unpaid leave. See EEOC Enforcement Guidance No. 915.002 (Oct. 17, 2002) (available at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html).
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