The U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld the dismissal of a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by an employee with diabetes who was discharged because he was medically unable to rotate shifts. In Rehrs v. Iams, Co., 8th Cir., No. 06-1609 (5/15/07), the Court agreed with the employer that “shift rotation” was an essential function of the employee’s job. Because the employee could only medically work a straight shift, he was “unqualified to carry out all the essential functions” of his technician job.
In ruling for the employer, the Court specifically noted that allowing the employee “to work a straight day/shift schedule would have placed a heavier or unfavorable burden on other technicians at the facility.” Under the ADA, “an accommodation that would cause other employees to work harder, longer, or be deprived of opportunities is not mandated.” This recent case is consistent with Anderson v. Coors Brewing Company, 181 F.3d 1171 (10th Cir. 1999), which rejected the disability discrimination claim of an employee who was medically unable to work all the potential jobs she might be required to perform in the temporary labor pool.
The cases have emphasized that the process of reasonable accommodations under the ADA does not mean dispensing with the essential functions of a job. The purpose of reasonable accommodation is to find a way to allow disabled employees to perform the essential functions of a job, but not to excuse employees from performing them. If essential job functions cannot be performed with or without reasonable accommodations, the employee is “unqualified” for the job and is not protected under the ADA.