For some jobs to be done correctly, they must be done on a full-time basis. For such jobs, a disabled worker is not entitled to an accommodation of working only part time. That point was illustrated in the case of Judith Tompson v. Department of Mental Health where the Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed with the trial court’s decision not to allow Tompson to go to trial.
Tompson was a mental health worker and due to superior work performance worked her way up to a supervisor position. She suffered from Crohn’s disease and her treating physician set forth absolute limitations restricting her to work only four hours per day. The Department of Mental Health stated that failure to work a full-time schedule limited her ability to assist clients in a community setting, restricted her ability to be a shift supervisor, limited her ability to write shift reports, made her unavailable to close out the shift, and narrowed her time for role modeling, training, and guidance to less experienced staff. Ultimately the Department told her she could no longer work in that job, but did suggest other jobs available as part-time positions. Tompson was not interested in the part-time positions the Department suggested and never explored that option.
After Tompson was fired, she went through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and after losing there she went to the Superior Court. The Superior Court, and the Appeals Court thereafter, found that the Department of Mental Health acted reasonably in finding that she could not perform the essential functions of her job by working part time and that it was not a reasonable accommodation to require the Department to allow her to do so.
The Court further found that while the employer and the employee should both engage in an interactive process designed to determine whether or not an accommodation satisfying her needs and those of the Department could be found, Tompson refused to consider other part time positions. The Court noted that, by its very nature, interaction envisions mutual exploration and not a process upon which one side is required to serve up possible solutions while the other simply awaits the arrival of the offer to her liking.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].