Is Your Physical Presence at Work an Essential Job Function?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) protect certain qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination at work. This means that your employer cannot take negative actions against you as a result of your disability, because you have a record of a disability, or because it regards you as disabled. Further, your employer is also required to make “reasonable accommodations” so that you can perform the essential functions your job. An accommodation can be 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. If you have questions about disability discrimination, or your rights as a disabled worker, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced Georgia disability discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

Many times, the question of what constitutes an “essential function” of your job, and whether your employer must make these simple adjustments is central to disability discrimination lawsuits.

For example, a recent lawsuit – EEOC v. Ford Motor Company – involved a woman who suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, and whether the company should be required to accommodate her request to telecommute 4 days a week. The crux of the case concerned whether her physical presence at her place of employment was an essential function of her job. The woman worked as a resale steel buyer for the company and asserted that as the result of advances in technology, she was able to perform the essential functions of her job at home. In a significant reversal of the lower court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that while regular attendance may be considered an “essential function” of most jobs, “technological advances have expanded the class of jobs for which working from home may be reasonable.” As such, for more and more jobs, physical presence at work is not essential.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote further, “The world has changed since the foundational [federal appeals court] opinions regarding physical presence in the workplace were issued: teleconferencing technologies that most people could not have conceived of in the 1990s are now commonplace…Therefore, we are not persuaded that positions that require a great deal of teamwork are inherently unsuitable to telecommuting arrangements.”

She continued “[T] he 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 an employee can perform her job duties.”

As such, the court determined that the questions of whether the woman’s physical presence was an essential function of her job and if failure to accommodate her request violated the ADA ,should be left to a jury to decide.

If you have questions about disability discrimination or believe that you have been illegally discriminated against, please contact our experienced Atlanta disability discrimination lawyers right away for a confidential case evaluation.