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Reasonable Accommodation Under ADA

I have an employee who has a mental illness. She is no longer eligible for FMLA. We just received a medical certification form from her psychiatrist indicating that she may need to miss 1-2 days per week for flare-ups and additional time 1-2 times for appointments. Our company policy defines part-time as an employee being scheduled 29 or less hours per week. Is it a reasonable accommodation under ADA to require this employee to go into a part-time position? What if that status change will make them ineligible for benefits; is that still reasonable?

I am in WI, which may also make a difference.

The answer to the first question, “Is it a reasonable accommodation to require this worker to go to part-time status?” is probably no. The EEOC generally rules that allowing an employee to work a reduced schedule is a reasonable accommodation under ADA. In fact, a modified work schedule is one of the most common accommodations under ADA.

In this case, requiring the employee to go to part-time status might be considered discriminatory. Apparently, the employee may need to take off 1 to 2 days per week, and have 1 or 2 medical appointments per week. But, from the information that you have presented, there may be weeks in which the employee does not need that much time off and is able to work 30, 35 or 40 hours. By putting the employee on part-time status, the employer is effectively punishing the employee for having a disability.

The EEOC requires that employers assess each employee’s case individually. This means that employers cannot implement blanket policies that affect disabled workers, such as “employees must either work 40 hours per week, or work a part-time schedule.”

If an employee specifically requests a part-time schedule as an accommodation, usually the employer should comply. However, not every request for a modified schedule is a request to be put on part-time status.

Now to answer the second question, if the employee asks to be put on a part-time schedule, and the employer doesn’t ordinarily provide benefits to part-time workers, then the employer is under no obligation to provide benefits to the disabled worker. This information can be found on #15 of this EEOC publication.

A great free resource for employers who are trying to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees is JAN, the Job Accommodation Network at 800-526-7234. JAN specializes in helping employers and workers find reasonable accommodations. It might also be helpful to contact the EEOC on this issue.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2008 at 12:02 pm and is filed under
Benefits, Hiring and Staffing, Workplace Management.
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