Rotating Shifts is Essential Job Function, Citing Impact on Co-Workers as Well as Business Justification

Recall our post concerning the claims of the acrophobic bridge worker and incontinent court reporter that rotating through job assignments was not an essential function of their jobs. Now comes a “Resource Coordinator” seeking a straight day shift as an accommodation to her disability and claims that working rotating shifts is not an essential function of her position. Resource Coordinators work in teams of two on nine week schedules that rotate between twelve-hour and eight-hour shifts and day and night shifts.

The Eighth Circuit held that working rotating shifts was an essential function of the Resource Coordinator position and affirmed summary judgment for the employer.Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corporate Services, Inc. (8th Cir. September 4, 2012).In reaching that holding, the court not only focused on the employer’s business justification for the rotating shifts, as you would expect, but also focused on aspects of the “non-work life” of Resource Coordinators.Rotating shifts “enhances the non-work life of all Resource Coordinators by spreading the less desirable shifts—nights and weekends, among all” of them, the Court said. “If [plaintiff] were switched to a straight day shift and not required to work the rotating shift, then other Resource Coordinators would have to work more night and weekend shifts,” the Court said.

Employers should always consider pointing to the adverse impact on co-workers of an employee’s requested accommodation in making an “undue hardship” argument. This case suggests that an employer should consider raising that issue at the earlier “essential function” stage as well.