An essential function of full time work is that an employee actually work full time!  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently concluded that an individual who requested that she be allowed to continue working part time did not request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  White v. Standard Insurance Co., (6th Cir. June 28, 2013). The employer established that full time work was an essential function of the position: the employer had never employed anyone in the employee’s particular position on a part-time basis; the written job description stated that the position was full time; and the plaintiff admitted during her deposition that she was unable to complete the job requirements in a four-hour shift.  Other employees had to work overtime to cover her work.

The plaintiff had a back injury in September 2007 and took a leave through December 2007.  In mid-December, she returned to work part-time for four hours a day but, beginning in mid-January, she had trouble working even four hours.  She did not work or left early 6 days in January and then left early on February 6 and called off on February 7.  As a result, the employer terminated her employment but held the position open until the end of March in case she could return to work.

The court concluded that a request to continue working part time was not a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA because the plaintiff was not able to perform the essential functions of the job while working part time and the employer was not required to create a new part time position.

This case reminds employers how important a well-drafted job description can be.  It also reaffirms the necessity of the individualized inquiry.  The particular facts of each case will determine whether an accommodation is reasonable under the particular circumstances.