If you have a disability, you may need to work part time or change your schedule as an accommodation that will allow you to do your job. If you are unable to work a full schedule due to treatment, the effects of medication, the need for rest, or other reasons relating to your disability, you may be entitled to part-time work as a reasonable accommodation. Similarly, if you need to change your starting time or ending time, or if you need breaks during the workday for these same reasons, you can request these scheduling changes as an accommodation for your disability.
However, you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation only if it doesn’t create undue hardship for your employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the law that gives you the right to a reasonable accommodation: modifications to your workplace, schedule, policies, job duties, uniform requirements, and other work rules that will allow you to perform your job. (Learn more about how the ADA defines disability and otherwise qualified.)
Some employees with disabilities need to work part time, either temporarily or on a long-term basis. For example, if you are undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatment, you may be unable to work a couple of days a week, while you receive your treatment and recover from it. Or, you may need to work a reduced schedule due to fatigue following surgery. If your disability results in reduced stamina and energy, you may need a permanent part-time schedule.
Scheduling changes are another potential accommodation. For example, if you take antidepressant medication that causes you to feel groggy in the morning, you might request a later start time. Or, you may need breaks during the workday to monitor your medication, eat and drink, receive medical treatment, or rest.
If you need a reasonable accommodation from your employer, you must request it. The best way to make the request is in writing, so you have a record of what you said and when. In your accommodation letter, briefly describe your disability and how it affects you. Explain why you need to work part time or change your schedule, and how that change would allow you to do your job. You might also attach documentation from your doctor, explaining how the accommodation will help you.
Once you’ve made your request, your employer is obligated to engage in a dialogue with you to arrive at an accommodation. You are not necessarily entitled to the precise accommodation you request, as long as your employer comes up with an effective accommodation.
Suzette handles intake at an auto mechanic shop. Her job involves greeting customers when they arrive, creating an invoice and notes on what their car needs, and providing the paperwork to the mechanic team. She also communicates with customers during the day, gets their approvals for repairs, and informs them when their cars are ready. The heavy part of Suzette’s workload is from 7 to 9 a.m., when people bring their cars in before work. Suzette is returning to work following surgery, and can only work four hours a day for six weeks. She asks to work from 1 to 5 p.m., so her husband can pick her up after work. Her supervisors asks if she can instead work from 7 to 11 a.m., so she can help out during the morning rush. This is less convenient for Suzette, but it is an effective accommodation for her disability.
Your employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that creates undue hardship. For example, if the medication you must take in the morning makes you nauseated for a couple of hours, you may not be able to start work before 10 a.m. However, if your primary job responsibility involves dispatching delivery drivers on their morning routes, which must take place between 6 and 8 a.m., your employer may not be able to accommodate your need to start later.
If it would be an undue hardship for your employer to allow you to work part time or change your schedule, your employer must consider whether it could reassign you to an open position for which you are qualified that would allow you to work the schedule you need. Reassignment must be considered only if no other accommodation exists that would allow you to keep doing your current job, without undue hardship. In this situation, you may be entitled to a vacant position that will allow for the scheduling changes you need. You are not entitled to have your employer create a new position for you or displace another employee in order to reassign you. (See Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, available at the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the ADA, for more information on this issue.)
If you cannot work your usual schedule due to a disability, and your employer refuses to grant you an accommodation, talk to an experienced employment lawyer right away. A lawyer can evaluate the facts and let you know if you have a good claim for a reasonable accommodation. If so, the lawyer can negotiate with your employer to try to get you the accommodation you need to do your job. If negotiations don’t work, the lawyer can protect your legal rights by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.