Rotating Shift Requirement is Essential Function of Job

Darrell VanDeusen
Darrell VanDeusen

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that an employer provide a reasonable accommodation (without undue hardship) to a qualified individual with a disability to enable her to perform the essential functions of the job.  An employer need not – and should not – eliminate an essential function of a job for a disabled employee.  To do so turns the ADA on its head, with the employer basically saying “that’s ok, we don’t expect as much from you because of your disability so you won’t have to do everything you’d have to do if you were not disabled.”

But what is an essential job function?  The best source is a current and up to date job description. Even then, however, some employees claim that those listed functions are not really essential to the job. What if, for example, the claimed “essential function” is an employee’s ability to work different shifts?  The Eighth Circuit has held that an employer’s requirement of a rotating shift was an essential function of the job, entitling the employer to summary judgment on the employee’s ADA claim.  Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corp. Servs., Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 18557 (8th Cir. Sept. 4, 2012).

Terri Kallail, who is diabetic, worked as a resource coordinator for Alliant at its dispatch center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where employees monitor the distribution of electricity, natural gas, and steam.  To maintain service, resource coordinators work on nine-week schedules that rotate between 12- and eight-hour shifts and day and night shifts.

Kallail needed to test her blood sugar several times a day, and her doctor recommended that she work only straight day shifts, explaining that a rotating shift led to “erratic changes” in her blood pressure and blood sugar.  The company denied her this accommodation, explaining that the rotating shift was an essential function of the job.   The company did offer Kallail reassignment to a vacant position with a permanent shift, but she rejected that offer.  Ultimately, Kallail went on short-term and then long-term disability.  She then sued for disability discrimination.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the company’s favor.  First, Alliant listed the rotating shift as a requirement on the resource coordinator’s job description. Second, the court agreed with Alliant’s assertion that the rotating shift let resource coordinators gain experience working in all geographic areas and with all personnel in the company’s service area.  “Shift rotation also enhances the non-work life of Resource Coordinators by spreading the less desirable shifts—nights and weekends—among all Resource Coordinators,” said the court. “If Kallail were switched to a straight day shift and not required to work the rotating shift, then other Resource Coordinators would have to work more night and weekend shifts.”


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