The recent Sixth Circuit opinion in Hostettler v. The College of Wooster, No. 17-3406 (6th Cir. July 17, 2018), is 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).

An HR Generalist for the College, Hostettler was unable to return to work full time after the conclusion of her 12 weeks of maternity leave because of postpartum depression and separation anxiety.  The district court granted summary judgment to the College, finding that full-time work was an essential function of the position and that Hostettler was not a qualified individual under the ADA because she could not perform that essential function.

Sixth Circuit: Fact Specific Analysis is Required When Determining Whether Full-Time Presence is Essential

The Sixth Circuit disagreed, holding that while “regular, in person attendance is an essential function” of most jobs, a fact specific analysis is required. The Sixth Circuit emphasized the necessity of a fact specific analysis in each case to the point of holding that “[on] its own,….. full-time presence at work is not an essential function. An employer must tie time-and-presence requirements to some other job requirement.”

The court noted that the record included testimony of Hostettler and a co-worker that she had completed all of her tasks while working a part-time schedule. Further, the record also included a glowing evaluation given to Hostettler while she was on a part-time schedule by the supervisor who discharged her with no indication of Hostettler being needed on a fulltime schedule and testimony from the same supervisor that Hostettler never failed to timely complete a responsibility (except for some tasks that she could not identify during her deposition).

Employers Must Demonstrate that Full-Time Schedule is Essential for ADA Compliance

The Sixth Circuit concluded that “[a]n 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.”

Once again, employers are cautioned to make a “fact specific inquiry” on each occasion in which a disabled employee is seeking an accommodation, both with respect to the essential functions of the position and the accommodation being requested.

For questions or additional information about reasonable accommodations for employees, contact Bob Horton or another Bass, Berry & Sims labor and employment attorney.