Inability to Work Overtime is NOT a “Disability”

Contributed by Terry Fox

After working as a maintenance engineer with Corning for more than a decade, an employee took a leave of absence to find that he suffered from leukemia and heart problems. His doctor determined that, despite his medical conditions, the employee was able to work, but should work no more 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week. 

The typical Corning worker’s schedule, however, consists of rotating 12-hour shifts, alternating two weeks of day shifts and two weeks of night shifts. When preparing to return to work, the employee asked Corning to alter his shifts in accordance with his physician’s statement. However, Corning took the position that because the employee was medically cleared to work a “normal” work week he was not “disabled” and did not comply with the employee’s request. When the employer refused, the employee filed an ADA charge with the EEOC and claimed the employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.  

The courts determined that since the employee was physically able to work a normal 40 hour work week and had not demonstrated that his impairments significantly restricted the class of jobs or range of jobs available to him, he could not establish that he had a “substantial” limitation upon which to base a claim of disability under the ADA. Boitnott v. Corning Incorporated, No. 10-1769 (4th Cir. 2/10/12). 

The takeaway for employers here is that just because an employee provides a doctor’s note stating that he or she can’t work overtime doesn’t necessarily mean that the employee is disabled or that the employee needs to be accommodated.  In cases like this, it is always important to consult with an attorney before making or refusing accommodations.