Aug 04, 2016
By Peter Friedmann

This is a very interesting decision regarding disabilities and reasonable accommodations in the workplace.  In the world of modern technology, anything is possible.  According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, it is now possible for “telecommuting,” more commonly known as working from home, to be considered a reasonable accommodation for those with a disability recognizable under the ADA.

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Factual Background

Meet Plaintiff, Jane Harris.  Harris worked for Ford for about 6 years as a buyer, along with several other buyers who were on her team. Harris essentially acted as a liason between Ford’s suppliers and parts manufacturers, ensuring the parts supply ran smoothly and resolved disputes.  Like most individuals in this type of position, this job was highly interactive and required a lot of in-person contact.

Throughout her employment, Harris had chronic attendence problems.  Harris suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which made it very difficult for her to leave her desk, drive to work or to and from her client contacts without soiling herself.  To remedy her absenteeism, Harris requested a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  Someone with a qualified disability under the ADA can request a reasonable accommodation from their employer, which will make it easier for the disabled person to perform his or her job duties.  The caveat is that person still must be able to perform his or her job duties with or without an accommodation.

In this case, Harris requested a reasonable accommodation of working from home, which would allow her to still perform her job duties but better manage her IBS symptoms.  Ford said no way- her job requires too much face-to-face interaction to allow such a thing.  Obviously, Harris and her attorneys disagreed.  The case reached the 6th Circuit and the 6th Circuit sided with Harris.

The 6th Circuit agreed with Harris that she should have been given the reasonable accommodation to telecommute, mostly because Ford could not prove that physical attendance (or in this case, face-to-face communication) was an essential function of her job.  The 6th Circuit reasoned that initially, attendance was an essential function of most jobs because most jobs required driving into work, sitting at a desk and performing duties alongside your fellow co-workers.  However, since technology has developed, there are so many other options and employees are working from home more than ever.  If technology allows for it, then physical presence at the place of employment may not be necessary.

The Court said, “[C]ommunications technology has advanced to the point that it is no longer an “unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties from home.”  The state of the traditional workplace is changing and allows employees more options when requesting a reasonable accommodation.

Full text of the opinion can be found here:

If you need to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer, one of our Columbus Disability lawyers can help you figure out what type of accommodation to ask for, ensure your request is reasonable and provide support throughout the process.