Disabled employee didn’t have a right to unplanned absences

A disabled employee doesn’t necessarily have a right to take unplanned days off from work, a federal appeals court in San Francisco has decided.

The case involved a part-time nurse working in a hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. The nurse suffered from fibromyalgia, a condition that limited her sleep while causing chronic pain.

Under the hospital’s attendance policy, she was allowed to take up to five unplanned absences each year. When she started to exceed that number, the hospital tried to accommodate her situation through flexible shift scheduling. But her attendance problems continued, and she was fired.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to allow an otherwise qualified worker to perform his or her job. In this case, the nurse sued the hospital, arguing that it should have accommodated her by allowing an unspecified number of unplanned absences.

But the court said that what the nurse was asking for wasn’t reasonable. It said regular attendance was an essential part of her job, especial in her capacity as a neo-natal nurse, where patient safety required constant team coordination and continuity. This coordination could be disrupted by a team member’s unpredictable attendance, the court explained.