Can my company cut my hours in half because of a doctors note?

I’m asking for my wife. We recently found out she is pregnant expecting our first
child. My wife has a history of medical problem diabetes,Auto-immune. Her
doctor wrote a note stating that she has to be able to take breaks every 2 hours
even if it’s only having a chair to sit on at the register. her district and
store managers refused and said they can’t afford to have another associate there
so she can take a break and that it’s against company policy to have anyone sit
behind the counter now to accomodate the note they want to just cut her hours in
half are they allowed to do this? she works for a company with multiple locationc
and stores totaling well over 50 employees in i believe multiple states and we
live in california I believe this is relevant.

Asked on April 24, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

There are two different issues here:
1) First, the claim that it's "against company policy to have anyone sit behind the counter" is not a valid reason to refuse to let your wife sit or to reduce her hours. The law requires an employer to make "reasonable accommodation" to employees with medical conditions qualifying as "disabilities" (significant, long-term effect on life). A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules or the provision of some assistive device, furniture, technology, etc. which is not too expensive or disruptive. Letting someone sit is generally not expensive or disruptive, and "company policy" is NOT a valid reason to deny an accommodation. So the company should not be able to refuse to allow your wife to sit. This, though, applies if your wife can do her job while sitting--it's a different issue if sitting takes her away from her job. 
2) "Can't afford to have another associate there"--that *may* be a valid reason to reduce hours IF what it means is that your wife is not normally positioned or located at the register, so letting her sit behind the register would be to let her not do her job--the job she is supposed to do--but rather take a complete break from working. If that's the case, and if the break from working to going to sit behind the register is more than just a few minutes every two or so hours, it would not be reasonable to allow her to not work while at work--companies do not need to pay employees to not work. So if the only way for her to take a break is for her to stop working entirely, the company does not need to accommodate that, and could reduce her hours to something she could actually work.
So the issue is, is sitting something she can do while doing her job--in which case they have to let her do it--or does it mean not doing her job while she is working--in which case, they most likely do not need to let her do this.
If your wife feels that they could accommodate her so that she can work while sitting but are simply refusing to, then she should contact the federal EEOC or your state civil/equal rights agency to file a complaint.


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