The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not require a power company to grant a diabetic employee’s request to work a straight day shift. (Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corporate Servs. Inc.) The employee was employed as one of several “resource coordinators” who monitor power distribution and schedule and route resources to respond to routine and emergency situations such as power outages. To provide 24/7 coverage, resource coordinators are required to work a schedule rotating between eight and 12-hour shifts, days and nights. As an insulin-dependent diabetic, the employee began experiencing erratic changes in her blood pressure and blood sugar which put her at higher risk for diabetic complications and death, a development her physician attributed to her work schedule. The employee asked to be accommodated with a straight day shift.
The employer argued that the ability to work rotating shifts was essential for a resource coordinator. It explained that working rotating shifts provides enhanced experience, exposure to other company personnel, and training, all allowing the company to handle emergency situations more effectively. It further explained that spreading less desirable shifts (nights and weekends) among all resource coordinators enhances employee morale. Finally, it pointed to its job description, which lists the ability to work rotating shifts as an essential job function. The court found that these were legitimate business reasons for the employer’s scheduling decision, and reiterated a prior ruling that “[i]t is not the province of the court to…determine what is the most productive or efficient shift schedule for a facility.”
Of course, the court did not establish a per se rule that a straight shift is never a reasonable accommodation. Each request for accommodation must be evaluated on its own merits. However, it serves as an excellent reminder that employers with updated job descriptions that comprehensively describe essential functions will be better positioned to argue that a job function is in fact essential and cannot be re-assigned.