Benefits & Compensation News

Can on-time arrival be an essential job function under ADA?

It would seem like a no-brainer to a lot of employers: One essential function of any job is showing up on time. But what would a court say?

Recently, New York City’s Human Resources Administration said granting one of its case managers an accommodation that would allow him to arrive to work between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. would keep him from performing an essential function of his job — arriving to work on time.

When his accommodation request was denied, the case manager then sued. He claimed the city had violated the ADA, but a district court sided with the city.

Flextime and the ADA

However, a closer look at the details of the case on appeal, lead to that ruling being overturned.

Some background: The case manager was a schizophrenic who’d been on medication for years, which made him “sluggish” and “drowsy” in the morning, according to the lawsuit.

For years, the company had allowed the manager to arrive late for work. Then his supervisor determined she could no longer put up with his tardiness and she began disciplining him for it, which is what prompted him to request an accommodation under the ADA

One of the biggest things the company had working against it in this case was its flextime policy. The standard workday for employees at the Human Resources Administration was 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But employees were allowed to arrive anytime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. as long as they made up any time they missed at the beginning of the day by staying later than 5 p.m.

The appeals court said that while in most employment contexts on-time arrival is an essential job function, that couldn’t be proven in this case for two reasons:

  • For years it allowed the case manager to arrive late for work, and
  • The fact that the employer offered flextime implied “punctuality and presence at precise times may not be essential.”

The appeals court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

One major takeaway for employers from this case: If you have a flextime policy that looks anything like the city’s, you won’t have much of a leg to stand on if you try to claim an ADA accommodation that allows a disabled employee to show up late for work is unreasonable.

Cite: McMillan v. City of New York

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