A federal court held that overnight on-call work may be an essential job function, and an employee’s request to be excused from that work was not a reasonable accommodation.

In Porter v. Tri-Health, Inc., the hospital required its radiology department sonographers to share overnight on-call on a rotating basis. Although this requirement was not included in the job description, it was made clear to the sonographers upon hire and constituted a significant part of their time worked. The employee was placed on a medical restriction that prevented her from taking call after 9 pm, and she was eventually terminated for her inability to take overnight call.

The Ohio federal district court found that the overnight on-call duty was essential. Sonographers had to be available if needed, as medical emergencies could arise anytime, even if the emergencies were not routine. The court noted that deference to the hospital’s view of the essential nature of the function was warranted under the unique circumstances of a hospital setting. Moreover, the supervisor had difficulty covering the employee’s on-call time, and the other employees complained about the extra on-call duty imposed on them.

Of interest, the employer had previously had an optional sonographer who, for a period of about a year, worked most of the on-call hours for all the sonographers, including the employee. Thus, the employee was granted her requested accommodation during that time. However, when the optional sonographer left, the hospital chose not to replace that role. The court found that the fact the hospital had previously provided the accommodation did not mean that it conceded the function was not essential.