Working Overtime Can Be Essential Job Function

By Madonna Snowden August 7, 2018
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​The ability to work overtime can be an essential job function under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, deferring to United Parcel Service's (UPS's) explanation that overtime was essential given unpredictable increases in workload, such as during the holidays and inclement weather.

The plaintiff worked for UPS as a delivery driver for more than 30 years. After multiple physical ailments due to a back injury and a degenerative hip condition, his doctor determined that he was unable to work more than eight hours per day. UPS, however, required delivery delivers to be available for overtime work, up to 9.5-hour days. When the plaintiff informed his manager of his work limitation, his manager allegedly told him, "Congratulations. Your career at UPS is now over. … UPS won't allow anybody to work with a permanent restriction."

Because his position required overtime hours, the company suggested that he apply for other jobs within the company. The plaintiff identified several other full-time positions that he could perform with his restriction, but none were available. As a result, the company offered him a part-time job, which he declined. Several months later, the plaintiff's doctor removed the hourly restriction on any job other than a delivery driver. The plaintiff was then assigned to a full-time combined loader/preloader position, which proved too physically strenuous for him. Consequently, he was medically restricted to work only four-hour shifts. UPS refused to reduce his schedule.

At the time there were no full-time positions available that fit his medical restriction, so UPS offered him a part-time job. He declined the offer and instead elected to retire. Believing that the company had acted unlawfully, the plaintiff filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging that his former employer failed to accommodate his disability in violation of the ADA.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Employees' Disabilities]

The district court granted summary judgment for UPS, finding that the plaintiff was not qualified for the driver position, a requirement for succeeding under the ADA because the ability to work overtime was an essential function of the position. On appeal, in a divided decision, the 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling. "We agree with the district court that UPS satisfied its burden of proof on this fact-intensive issue, which turns on factors such as the employer's judgment, its written job description, the terms of any applicable collective bargaining agreement, and the consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function," the appeals court stated.

The 8th Circuit gave great deference to the company's determination of what constituted essential functions of the driver position. UPS explained that overtime is essential because daily package workloads can increase unpredictably. If a driver is not able to deliver all assigned packages in eight hours and is restricted from working overtime, other drivers would have to finish the deliveries or the packages would not be delivered on time—both of which would negatively affect the company's business. The requirement to work overtime was also listed in the written job description for the driver position, and the issue was collectively bargained with the union.

The court also held that UPS fulfilled its duties under the ADA by repeatedly offering reasonable positions that were available regardless of the plaintiff's first choice. The court noted that the company met with the plaintiff and identified several other positions for which he was qualified, encouraging him to apply for these positions. However, he either lacked seniority for those positions or there were no vacancies. The court stated that UPS was under no obligation under the ADA to pursue the plaintiff's preferred accommodations.

Faidley v. United Parcel Service of America, 8th Cir., No. 16-1073 (May 11, 2018).

Professional Pointer: This case serves as a reminder of the importance of current and accurate job descriptions. Employers should remain vigilant when drafting job descriptions and include all essential functions of a job that are relevant during the interactive process. Consider including an employee sign-off section for the employee to acknowledge that he or she understands all requirements of the job.

Madonna Snowden is an attorney with Allen Norton & Blue P.A., the Worklaw® Network member firm in Winter Park, Fla.

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