Schedule Changes and Working Part Time as a Reasonable Accommodation

If you have a disability, federal law might give you the right to work part-time or change your hours as an accommodation.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you have a disability, you're entitled to reasonable accommodations that allow you to continue to do your job, and that could include changing your work schedule. Working part-time might be a reasonable accommodation if you're unable to work a full schedule due to any of the following:

  • medical treatment
  • the effects of medication
  • the need for rest, or
  • other reasons relating to your disability.

Similarly, if you need to change your starting or ending time, or if you need breaks during the workday, you can request these scheduling changes as an accommodation for your disability.

But you're entitled to a reasonable accommodation only if it doesn't create undue hardship for your employer. Read on to learn more about requesting a modified work schedule as a reasonable accommodation for your disability—and when your employer can refuse to accommodate you.

Your Right to Reasonable Accommodations at Work

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal law that protects people with disabilities at work. Under the ADA, reasonable accommodation could include modifications to things like:

  • your schedule
  • your hours
  • workplace policies
  • your job duties
  • your uniform requirements, and
  • other changes to work rules that will allow you to perform your job.

But ADA rules only apply to companies with 15 or more employees. State and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions also must comply with the ADA.

(Learn more about your employer's obligations under the ADA.)

Examples of Part-Time or Modified Schedules as Reasonable Accommodations

Some employees with disabilities need to work part-time—either temporarily or long-term. Some examples of temporary situations that might require switching to part-time work as an accommodation include the following:

  • needing a couple of days a week off for weekly chemotherapy treatment and recovery from it, or
  • needing to work shorter shifts due to fatigue following surgery.

But if your disability causes reduced stamina and energy that isn't expected to improve, you might 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, your condition might require that you take extra or longer breaks during the workday to do things like:

  • monitor your medication
  • eat and drink
  • receive medical treatment, or
  • rest.

Changes to your work schedule or taking time off for medical treatment or recovery are generally considered reasonable accommodations under the ADA. (Taking a few days or weeks off work can also be an accommodation. Learn more about taking leave from work as a reasonable accommodation.)

How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation

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 describe how that change would allow you to do your job. You might also attach a note from your doctor that explains how the accommodation will help you.

Once you've made your request, your employer is obligated to discuss your needs with you to arrive at an accommodation that works for both of you. You're not necessarily entitled to the specific change you requested, as long as your employer comes up with an accommodation that effectively allows you to continue doing your job.

(Learn what to do if your employer ignores your accommodation request.)

When an Employer's Hardship is "Undue"

Your employer doesn't have to provide a reasonable accommodation that creates "undue hardship" for the business—significant difficulty or expense, considering the following:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation
  • the size and financial resources of the company
  • the type of business, and
  • whether the accommodation will significantly disrupt operations.

If allowing you to work part-time or changing your schedule would be an undue hardship for the business, your employer must consider whether you could be reassigned to a vacant position that would allow you to work the schedule you need. Reassignment must only be considered if no other accommodation exists that would allow you to keep doing your current job without creating undue hardship.

In the example above, you might be entitled to an open position that would allow for the scheduling changes you need. But you're not entitled to have your employer create a new position for you or displace another employee to reassign you.

(Learn more about reasonable accommodation vs. undue hardship on the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the ADA.)

If Your Employer Denies Your Accommodation Request

If you can't 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 you do, the lawyer can negotiate with your employer 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.

Learn more about hiring an employment discrimination attorney.

Updated August 4, 2023

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