Yahoo Eliminates Telecommuting – Violation of ADA?

In late February of 2013, Yahoo! implemented a policy banning its employees from working from home (i.e. no telecommuting).  The official company stance in an internal memo was that “some of the best decisions and insights from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings” and “[w]e need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

However, this move not only raised eyebrows in workplaces across the country, it also brought to light the issue of telecommuting and reasonable accommodations for disabled workers.  Both the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require employers to make reasonable accommodation for known disabilities of employees to enable them to perform a position’s essential functions, unless doing so would result in undue hardship to the employer’s operations.  Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(m); 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b).

Under California and federal case law that telecommuting and other forms of flex-work arrangements can amount to a “reasonable accommodation.”  For example, in Humphrey v. Memorial Hospitals Association, 239 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2001), the Ninth Circuit held that a “work-at-home” arrangement was a potential “reasonable accommodation” for a medical transcriptionist who suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), finding at-home work an appropriate accommodation because physical attendance at the office was not an essential job duty.  See also Norris v. Allied Sysco Food Services, Inc., 948 F. Supp. 1418, 1431 (S.D. Cal. 1996) (where disabled employee’s duties (administrative and clerical) could be performed on the computer and over the telephone, she could be reasonably accommodated by permitting her to work from home, part-time if necessary.)  The United States Equal Opportunity Commission’s Enforcement Guidance also makes it clear that policies regarding where work is performed must be modified if needed as a reasonable accommodation (subject, again, to the undue hardship defense).

If you suffer from a health condition and your employer implements an “across the board” policy prohibiting telecommuting or modifying your work, you should contact an attorney to see if your rights have been violated.