- A worker for Kraft-Heinz foods who asked for extra time between work shifts because of his epilepsy wasn't prevented from working overtime, an Oregon federal district court ruled (Gloeckner v. Kraft-Heinz Foods Co., et al., No. 3:19-cv-01239 (D. Ore., March 9, 2021)).
- The plaintiff in the case was hired by Kraft-Heinz as a quality assurance technician at a food production facility in Oregon. During his 30-day probationary period, the worker was told he would need to work "early call-in" shifts with less than 24-hours notice or be "held over" to work overtime after his shifts. The worker told the employer he had a seizure disorder and requested specific schedule accommodations to manage it, including advance notice of unscheduled shifts and at least 16 hours between shifts. Several weeks later, Kraft-Heinz told the worker it could not accommodate his disability and considered it a liability, and his employment was terminated "without engaging in an interactive process with him to determine whether it could accommodate his disability." The worker sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Oregon state law.
- The federal court ruled that the worker had plausibly alleged that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability. The employer argued that the plaintiff's requested accommodation meant that he would be excused from working overtime, which it said was an essential function of the job. The court said the plaintiff could work overtime with variable start times and days off work scheduled between long shifts.
An essential function of a position is defined as a fundamental job duty. The employer's description of essential job functions, including any written job description the employer creates before beginning the hiring process, is a key part of this, the court noted.
Overtime can be an essential job function; the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 in an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit that the ability to work overtime can be an essential job function. However, the inquiry is fact-specific and the outcome can vary, depending on the nature of the claim. For example, the 11th Circuit held in 2018 that it was not an essential function of a campus police officer's job to be able to work a 12-hour shift.
In this instance, the court didn't disagree with the employer's assessment that overtime was a necessary part of the job, it disagreed with the employer that the employee couldn't work overtime.
The court in this case also noted that the employer failed to engage in the interactive process on the question of overtime for the plaintiff. When presented with a request for accommodation, employers are expected to engage in a good-faith interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation.
Of course, an employer doesn't have to provide an accommodation that would create an undue hardship for the employer but accommodations can include something as simple as a chair for a front desk employee at a hotel or something more complex such as a modified work schedule.