Can Mandatory Overtime Be an Essential Job Function? The 11th Circuit Says Yes

On March 30, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision which determined that mandatory overtime was an essential job function – confirming the dismissal of a disability discrimination claim. You can read the opinion here.

In 2012, the plaintiff provided a note requesting a lifting restriction of no-more than 15 pounds. The employer reassigned her to accommodate the restriction. Thereafter, Plaintiff was limited by her pregnancy, and provided another doctor’s note which stated that she could “not work more than 40-hours per week.”

The employer advised the employee that it would not accommodate her permanent 40-hour workweek restriction, told her that it was placing her on unpaid FMLA leave, and that  if she did not have the 40-hour restriction lifted by her doctor it would terminate her.. The Plaintiff rejected the FMLA leave and did not seek to have the restriction modified by her doctor. The employer sent the employee the necessary FMLA forms twice and advised the employee that it would accommodate the 40-hour workweek restriction temporarily by placing her on FMLA Leave. The plaintiff ignored the FMLA paperwork and never had her doctor complete it. The employee was finally terminated because her absences were not excused (because she declined to take FMLA leave).

The plaintiff sued alleging disability discrimination (e.g. she was terminated because of her disability which caused the work restrictions). The case hinged on whether requiring a 40+ workweek is an essential job function. Under the ADA, an accommodation is only reasonable “if it enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job”. If an employee cannot perform the essential job functions, even with an accommodation, the employee does not qualify for an accommodation under the ADA.

In this case, the court concluded that 40+ hour workweek was an essential job function. In reaching its conclusion, it gave deference to the employer’s judgment as to whether it was essential, reviewed the job description, and reviewed the business needs of the industry. In dismissing the plaintiff’s case the court held that “the ability to work overtime is an integral part” of the plaintiff’s position. Accordingly, the plaintiff “was not a qualified individual under the ADA” and the plaintiff’s claims were summarily dismissed.

Key Takeaways

  • Employees should work with their Employment Lawyers to clearly write ADA accommodation requests.
  • Employees should not ignore FMLA medication certification. Failure to complete it can mean termination.
  • What an Employer believes is an essential job function matters.
  • Before discussing an accommodation the job description and the industry needs should be reviewed.

If you feel that you have unfairly been denied an ADA accommodation, contact your local employment law attorney. Maduff & Maduff specializes in a variety of employment related issues from overtime and wage theft, to discrimination, to disability rights, we guarantee to help fight for your employment rights.