When disabled employees seek workplace accommodations because of their disability, as they are allowed to do under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), they must first be able to establish they are “qualified individuals” under the Act. That means demonstrating that they can perform the essential functions of their job with or without a reasonable accommodation. An Eleventh Circuit case against Mercedes-Benz dealt with the ability to work overtime and how that affected the reasonableness of the requested accommodation.
Refusal of accommodation and ultimate termination
Kimberly Agee was employed with Mercedes-Benz as a production worker. She worked at the Alabama assembly plant and was paid hourly. Agee had a medical condition that required a restriction on working overtime. The restriction was for an indefinite period of time. Her employer refused to accommodate her and instead provided her with two options: unpaid FMLA leave or termination. After Agee refused to complete and submit the FMLA paperwork, she was terminated.
Agee’s ADA claim was dismissed
In response, Agee filed a lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act based on the company’s refusal to accommodate her and the termination. The case was dismissed by the district court in light of the employer’s assertion that she could not perform the essential functions of her position, so the company was not required to accommodate her.
When mandatory overtime is an essential job function
In order to be protected under the ADA, an employee must be a “qualified individual” which means she must be able to perform the essential functions of her position. This is important because an employer is not required to do away with an essential function of a position simply to accommodate an employee. Such an accommodation would not be reasonable. In Agee’s case, her employer argued that the ability to work overtime was an “essential function” of her job. Therefore, because she could not perform that function, per her doctor’s instructions, she was not a qualified individual and not protected by the ADA.
Why this case may be different from others
Mercedes-Benz’s was able to prove that it employed an across-the-board mandatory overtime requirement for all of its employees, which it made sure to thoroughly explain to its entire workforce before they were hired. Also, Agee did not participate in the required “interactive process” as set out in the ADA regulations. Mercedes-Benz documented her refusal to participate in that process.
What does this mean for ADA accommodations cases?
Most likely, this holding will not apply in every situation involving so-called “mandatory overtime.” There are certainly going to be cases where employers do not adequately warn employees of the mandatory overtime requirement before they accept employment offers. Prospective employees must be adequately advised. Job descriptions for the particular positions for which mandatory overtime is required may not include a sufficient statement advising of the requirement. The facts of every employment case may be different so it is important to discuss your specific situation with an employment discrimination attorney.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!