Employer May Be Required To Allow Disabled Employee To Telecommute

Many times, workers may suffer from a serious condition that interferes with their ability to perform a major life activity. However, despite the existence of that condition, he or she may still be able to work with as long as a “reasonable accommodation” is made.

Under Federal disability discrimination law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the American With Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA) employers must make an effort to reasonably accommodate “qualified individuals with a disability.” A reasonable accommodation can include something as simple as changing your starting time a few minutes, giving you a telephone amplifier if you’re hard of hearing, or changing your workspace if it exacerbates your medical condition.

The failure to take that action may constitute disability discrimination under federal law.

The Sixth Circuit is set to hear argument in October on a very important issue – the limits of employers’ obligation under the ADA to permit remote work arrangements, or telecommuting, as a reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities.

This issue was raised in a recent case that examined the issue of telecommuting and when an employer must permit work from home arrangements as an accommodation. In EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., a steel buyer requested to work from home up to four days per week as an accommodation for her irritable bowel syndrome. The lower court determined that Ford was not required to allow the worker to telecommute, noting the majority of federal appeals courts, including the Sixth Circuit, have held that regular attendance is an essential function of most jobs. Ford also argued that the woman’s presence was necessary because she worked as part of a team and needed to be physically present in the workplace in order to engage in group problem-solving with her teammates as well as for other face-to-face interactions.

However, the EEOC asserted that regular attendance no longer is an essential function of most jobs. They also argued that disability discrimination law holding otherwise is outdated because many of those cases were decided before many of the modern technological advances and the proliferation of computer use. The agency noted that there’s a critical difference between the duties of the job and the location of the job and that whether location is an “essential duty of the job” should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

With a growing number of individuals seeking telecommuting arrangements, the court’s determination in this case will likely have a great impact.

For more information about disability discrimination or reasonable accommodations, please contact the Atlanta disability discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP to request your initial case evaluation.