Can Telecommuting be a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability: Maybe.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (district courts in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee), held on April 22, 2014 that telecommuting might be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans Disability Act (ADA).  This ruling can be persuasive in California that has not definitively ruled on the issue.  In the case EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to be decided by a jury on whether telecommuting could be a reasonable accommodation.  In this case, Jane Harris was hired as a resale buyer for Ford in 2003.  Harris severely suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and requested to work from home 4 of 5 days during the week.  Ford denied the request stating that her job required interaction and face-time with other employees and clients.  Shortly thereafter, Harris asserts her supervisor began harassing her, gave her a bad review, and then terminated her.  The EEOC sued on behalf of Harris and, under this ruling, is allowed to continue progressing the case alleging discrimination and retaliation.

To support its opinion that telecommuting might be a reasonable accommodation, the court said: “When we first developed the principle that attendance is an essential requirement of most jobs, technology was such that the workplace and an employer’s brick-and-mortar location were synonymous.  However, as technology has advanced in the intervening decades, and an ever-greater number of employers and employees utilize remote work arrangements, attendance at the workplace can no longer be assumed to mean attendance at the employer’s physical location. Instead, the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context, as it has in other areas of modern life, and recognize that the “workplace” is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties. Thus, the vital question in this case is not whether “attendance” was an essential job function for a resale buyer, but whether physical presence at the Ford facilities was truly essential.”

Factors to consider for your job and whether telecommuting could be a reasonable accommodation are (1) the particular job, (2) the demonstrated work ethic of the employee and demonstrated ability to work well without supervision, (3) whether the employee has the necessary “tools” to perform the job well from home, (4) the employee’s medical condition, and (5) whether telecommuting will really resolve the work-related issue created by the medical condition.