Employment Discrimination Blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can Telecommuting be a Reasonable Accommodation to a Disability?

More and more, companies are allowing employees to work from home. Proponents of telecommuting (employers and employees alike) argue that telecommuting can cut costs, reduce turnover and actually increase productivity. Many opponents of the popular telecommuting movement insist that a team with members scattered about can't collaborate as effectively and efficiently when they're not physically located in the same office environment. In some cases, however, regardless of management’s general preferences, telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation to a disability depending on the facts of the situation and the job’s requirements.

If an employee has a disability, as defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer needs to make reasonable accommodations to the employee so that person can perform the essential functions of the position.

To be qualified for the job, the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. An employer need not provide an accommodation that imposes an undue hardship on running the operation.

Reasonable accommodation disputes are driven by the facts of the particular case. Telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation to one person holding a particular job working for one employer, but it might not be reasonable for a different job for another employer.

In a recent case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, EEOC v. Ford, the appeals court ruled in favor of the employer and stated that for Jane Harris, an employee seeking an accommodation due to her irritable bowel syndrome, telecommuting was not a reasonable accommodation. The court agreed with the trial court and dismissed the case.

Harris worked as a resale buyer for Ford (she was an intermediary between suppliers and her company) and the court found that the work not only consisted of communications by phone and email, but personal interactions through meetings with suppliers at their sites and Ford employees at Ford sites. This personal interaction was found to be an essential function of the job, one she could not perform if she only worked at home.

If you are unsure as to your own situation, take time to consider whether others performing the same job can telecommute as that would strengthen a claim that telecommuting should be permitted as an accommodation to your disability as well. If an employer allows non-disabled employees to telecommute, but does not allow that for disabled employees, in addition to this being accommodation issue it is also disability discrimination based on the fact that a disabled employee is being prevented from enjoying equal terms and conditions of employment.

If you live in Georgia and believe that you need an accommodation at work because of your disability, the disability discrimination attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC, can answer your questions and advise you of your legal rights and your employer’s responsibilities. Call today at (770) 670-6250 for a free case evaluation.

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