An employee with a serious medical condition asks for a flexible schedule that makes her arrival and departure times unpredictable. Can the company refuse the request?

Generally, yes, based on the disruption it would cause to the employer’s operations.   A recent Fourth Circuit decision confirms that the typical employer need not grant a flexible schedule, but can require adherence to a standard reduced-hour work schedule to accommodate a seriously ill employee’s need for medical leave.  See Ranade v. BT Americas Inc., No. 1:12cv1039 (E.D. Va. Oct. 28, 2013).

Two federal laws governing medical leave require medium-to-large employers to try to accommodate the scheduling issues of seriously ill employees.  (State laws in many states also impose similar requirements on small employers.) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) require employers to weigh a seriously ill employee’s need for leave against the operational needs of the company.  The ADA requires employers to offer a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees who need time off for treatment or mitigation of their disability, provided it does not create an undue burden on the company.  Under the FMLA, qualified employees may take up to 12 weeks of (paid or unpaid) leave in any given work year, and may take such leave on an “intermittent” basis subject to the employer’s reasonable scheduling requirements.

Employers that rarely discipline employees for attendance issues may find themselves forced to consider an employee’s request for broad flexibility in scheduling due to a medical condition.  Such an employer may have shown through prior conduct that its operational needs do not require strict adherence to its attendance policies.

For this reason, employers are well-advised to adhere to and enforce a reasonable employee attendance policy.  Without proof of a prior business need for regular and predictable attendance, an employer could lose control over the schedule of an ill or disabled employee.

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