Home » Employment Discrimination » Does Reasonable Accommodation of an Employee’s Disability Require Allowing the Employee to Telecommute?

Does Reasonable Accommodation of an Employee’s Disability Require Allowing the Employee to Telecommute?

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate their disabled employees; it does not endow all disabled persons with a job—or job schedule—of their choosing.” Whether an employer must allow a disabled employee to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) depends on the nature of the job position at issue and the employer’s demonstration of the essential functions of that job.

In EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, the EEOC sued Ford under the ADA for failing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability (irritable bowel syndrome) by rejecting her request to telecommute and for allegedly retaliating against her when she complained to the EEOC. The trial court initially granted Ford summary judgment, concluding that telecommuting was not a reasonable accommodation. On appeal, a panel of the 6th Circuit reversed.

Upon further appellate consideration, on April 10th the 6th Circuit sitting en banc affirmed (8-5 vote) the trial court’s summary judgment. Doing so, the divided en banc court concluded that regular and predictable on-site job attendance was an essential function of the employee’s job. The key for the court seemed to be the interactive nature of the employee’s job with Ford as a resale steel buyer and the general rule that regularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs, especially interactive ones. Because the employee involved could not regularly and predictably work on-site, which was an essential function of her job, she was not qualified for the job and Ford was entitled to summary judgment.

“That general rule—that regularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs, especially the interactive ones—aligns with the text of the ADA.” For employers, though, the 6th Circuit’s en banc decision offers guidance but no bright line rules. When confronted with a request to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, it is important to carefully evaluate the tasks involved in the employees’ job and her ability to perform those jobs remotely. Advances in technology, too, should contribute to the analysis.

EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., No. 12-2484 (6th Cir., April 10, 2015)


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