‘Rotating shifts’ might be illegal under disability rules

Many employers have “rotating shifts” where employees switch between day, evening and night shifts as a way of managing their workforce while meeting production and customer needs.

But in doing so, they need to be careful of employees’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Take the case of a truck driver who suffered from fibromyalgia and sleep apnea that caused acute pain and fatigue. He claimed his condition made it impossible for him to work rotating shifts, and requested that his employer assign him to straight day shifts without overtime.

When the employer refused, he sued. And a federal appeals court in Chicago allowed the suit, saying that a jury should decide whether the worker’s long-term sleep problems and pain constituted a “disability,” and whether rotating shifts and overtime were truly essential to the worker’s job.

Of course, it all depends on the individual situation. For instance, in another case in St. Louis, customer-service managers for a regional energy company were required to work rotating shifts to provide round-the-clock service to customers. A diabetic employee who recently had a toe amputated requested to be reassigned to a straight eight-hour day shift.

But a different federal appeals court said that in this case, the rotating shift schedule was an “essential function” of the job, so the employee didn’t have to be accommodated with a different arrangement.