In an article published by Law360, Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Robert Horton and Courtney Williams examined the recent Sixth Circuit opinion in Hostettler v. The College of Wooster, which serves as a cautionary tale for employers faced with a full-time employee seeking a modified work schedule as an accommodation for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The district court originally ruled in favor of the college when Hostettler was unable to return to full-time work after the conclusion of her 12 weeks of maternity leave, finding that full-time work was an essential function of the position and that Hostettler was not qualified under the ADA because she could not perform the essential function. The appellate court overturned this ruling in holding that an individualized assessment is necessary in determining whether full-time hours are an essential function of any position. It also held that, because full-time presence on its own is not an essential function, an employer must tie time-and-presence requirements to some other job requirement.
In supporting the call for individualized assessments, Hostettler and a co-worker testified that she had completed all of her tasks while working a part-time schedule, and Hostettler received a glowing evaluation while working part-time. The Sixth Circuit concluded that “an employer cannot deny a modified work schedule as unreasonable unless the employer can show why the employee is needed on a full-time schedule; merely stating that anything less than full-time employment is per se unreasonable will not relieve an employer of its ADA responsibilities.”
Some key lessons for employers to avoid accommodation issues moving forward include:
- Ensure that job descriptions document the type of duties that would indicate why full-time hours are an essential function for each full-time job
- Consider evaluation language that clarifies that while the employee was not able to perform all of the expected job functions due to a temporarily reduced number of hours, the evaluation is assessing the work being performed during the reduced number of hours
- Prepare for depositions in accommodation cases with the details of why the position requires full-time hours for the duties to be successfully completed
The full article, “6th Circ. Adds To Individual Assessment Trend Under ADA,” was published by Law360 on August 16, 2018, and is available online.