One of your employees presents you with a note from the doctor which places restrictions on the ability to work overtime. The doctor’s excuse does not tell you what medical condition prevents the employee from working overtime, nor does it tell you how long this restriction is to last. What do you do? Do you honor the request for an overtime exemption, even though doing so would place an even greater burden on your other employees? Are you legally required to honor such a request? Is the Employee “Disabled”? An employer is obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to employees who are “disabled” and “qualified.” The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that an impairment which prohibits an individual from working over forty hours per week is not subtantially limited within the meaning of the ADA and does not constitute a disability. Thus, the first thing to do when presented with an overtime exemption request is to seek additional information to determine whether the employee making the request does in fact have a disability. If all that you are presented with is an excuse from the employee’s doctor stating that he or she cannot work overtime, you probably do not have sufficient information to determine whether the employee actually has a disability. You must make inquiry to determine the nature of the employee’s condition, whether the medical condition substantially restricts any major life activity, whether the overtime restriction is inflexible or simply a guideline, and how long such restriction will last. With such information, you will be better able to determine whether you are legally obligated to grant the exemption. If the inability to work overtime is the only restriction placed on the employee’s activities, the employee may not be disabled and entitled to protection under the ADA. The employer would not then be obligated to grant the overtime exemption. Is the Employee “Qualified” for the Position? If you learn that the employee has a medical condition that imposes substantial limitations on one or more of the employee’s major life activities, and you conclude that he may have a disability, you must ask yourself whether the employee is seeking exemption from an essential job function, whether the accommodation is reasonable, or if it imposes an undue hardship. The ADA protects only those employees who are qualified for the position. A person is “qualified” if he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation. Whether a function is an essential one is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If overtime is an essential function of the job, the employee who cannot work overtime is not a qualified individual and is not entitled to the protections of the ADA. In determining whether a job function is essential, courts give significant deference to the employer’s written job descriptions which were prepared before the dispute in question arose. In those cases where overtime is an essential function, employers may be able to deny the overtime exemption for the reason that employees who are not able to perform overtime are not “qualified” and therefore not protected by the ADA. It is thus incumbent on all employers who consider overtime an essential function of the job to state such in the written job description. Is an Exemption a Reasonable Accommodation, or an Undue Hardship? There may be an additional reason to deny an overtime exemption. An employer is not obligated to provide an accommodation where the accommodation constitutes an undue hardship. An undue hardship is a circumstance that requires “significant difficulty or expense” in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the operation. For example, granting an overtime exemption to one employee might pose an undue hardship on a small employer because it would place a tremendous burden on the remaining employees who have to make up for the overtime that the disabled employee cannot work. An employer’s obligation to grant an exemption from performing overtime must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The astute employer may be able to avoid that obligation if it is aware of the employee’s burden and takes the appropriate steps before and after the request is made.