This seems like a no-brainer – if an employee has to work fewer hours, the employer should expect (and assign) less work from the employee. Well, an employer you would think would be savvy about this obvious point – IBM – seems to have missed it, in the case of Hochstetler v. International Business Machines, Inc.
Because of an employee’s autoimmune disease, she could not work more than 45 hours a week, instead of the expected 60-70 hours. She provided a doctor’s note requesting a limitation on work hours, and this accommodation was approved by IBM. The employee then told her supervisor that she could not accomplish all of her assigned work within the reduced work week. Instead of reducing her workload, the supervisor allegedly added new tasks. The employee then received a poor performance evaluation. This poor evaluation was a factor in the decision to select her for layoff during a subsequent reduction in force.
The employee then sued for failure to accommodate her disability, among other things, and IBM moved for summary judgment (meaning that it requested the court to find that no valid claims exist as a matter of law, given the facts of the case, before getting to trial). The Court found that it was possible that agreeing to reduce an employee’s hours but refusing to reduce her workload could be a failure to reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Therefore it refused to dismiss this claim.
Now at trial, IBM could try to prove that it wasn’t possible to reduce her hours, because all of the assigned work was part of the essential function of the employee’s job, since the ADA doesn’t require employers to alter the essential functions. Or it could show that the employee could have gotten all the work done in the 45 hours. But neither of those two things seems very likely, does it? Common sense would seem to provide that fewer hours = less work.