The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals let a former budget analyst go forward with Rehabilitation Act claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for denying her request for flexible hours due to her disability, depression. Solomon v. Vilsack (D.C. Cir. 2014). The Rehabilitation Act applies to federal contractors and employees and imposes similar requirements to the Americans with Disabilities Act for private employers.
The D.C. Circuit said determining whether providing flexible hours is unreasonable must be made using a case-by-case, fact-specific analysis. The court rejected the notion that an employee’s request for flexible hours, even outside the employer’s normal work hours, is per se unreasonable. The court cited the recent decision in EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., (6th Cir. 2014), in support of its argument that workplace evolution and technological advances make it less essential for some employees to be physically present during specific hours to perform their jobs.
In this case, the employee met her burden of showing that a “strict work-hours regimen” was not an essential function of her job. Despite arguments that flexible hours were not possible because the job frequently involved tight timeframes, the employee was able to show short deadlines were infrequent and that she met all deadlines while working a flexible schedule.
This case reminds employers to conduct individualized assessments before denying any requested accommodations due to disabilities, even those that may seem at the outset to be unreasonable. It also reminds employers to base any denial of a requested accommodation on verifiable facts and not speculation or assumptions about what functions are essential to the employee’s job.