How Far Must Employers Go to Accommodate the Scheduling Needs of People with Disabilities?

Published October 2, 2020

An employer must grant an altered work schedule for an employee with disabilities if "the essential functions of the job can be performed at different times with little or no impact on the operations or the ability of other employees to perform their jobs," according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

It is up to the employer to determine whether the requested accommodations may pose undue hardship, which significantly disrupt operations. Common scheduling accommodations include the following.

Altered work schedule

Most jobs are listed with set schedules, such as 9 AM to 5 PM. For some people with disabilities, though, this work schedule may not be realistic. In such cases, the employer must try to find scheduling alternatives. For example:

  • If a toll collector is unable to work in the mornings due to a symptom from a chronic illness, it is up to the employer to decide if the person can be scheduled to work in the afternoon or if doing so would significantly disrupt the toll booth’s operations.
  • If a person who was hired for a baking job that requires overnight work develops a disability and is unable to meet that requirement the employer should make reasonable efforts to reassign them to another role. The EEOC describes reassignment to a vacant position here.

For employees requesting a reasonable accommodation for part-time work, the employer is not required to provide additional benefits that other part-time employees do not receive. For example, if health insurance is not provided to the company’s part-time employees, then part-time employees with disabilities would not be eligible for health insurance.

Modified break schedule

Modified breaks throughout the workday may also be a reasonable accommodation. For example, fatigue may require a person to work in three-hour increments with a 30-minute break in between. The ADA does not require an employer to pay the employee for additional breaks, but the employee may be allowed extended work hours to compensate for them. That could mean that instead of working 9 to 5 with one 30-minute lunch break, an employee may be allowed to work 9 to 6 with three 30-minute breaks. As long as the employee is working a total of 8 hours the accommodation is not deemed to cause undue hardship on the employer.

For U.S. businesses, it is a good idea to check for laws that apply to your situation at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Paid and unpaid leave

An employee with a disability may need to take more leave than an employee without a disability for a variety of reasons.

Employers aren’t required to provide additional paid leave time to employees with disabilities. However, employers may be required to modify "no-fault" leave policies, which automatically terminate employees who take more leave time than they are allowed, unless they can demonstrate that there is another effective accommodation that would enable the person to perform their job or that granting additional leave would cause an undue hardship.

Adapting leave policies are considered a form of reasonable accommodation and an employer may be required to provide additional leave to an employee with a disability in certain circumstances.

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