Telecommuting Is Not A Reasonable Accommodation Where Regular And Predictable On-Site Job Attendance Is An Essential Job Function
Another court has reaffirmed the principle that telecommuting or working from home is not a required reasonable accommodation where regular on-site job attendance is an essential job function. In this case, the employer maintained a formal telecommuting policy, pursuant to which it had permitted certain employees to telecommute up to two days per week, provided that the employees would come into work during a telecommuting day when needed.
The case involved an employee with irritable bowel syndrome, which caused her repeatedly to show up to work late, leave work early, and often miss work entirely. The employer had allowed her to work “flex time” and to telecommute up to one day per week. The employee requested an accommodation permitting her to work from home “up to 4 days a week,” but the employer rejected this request as excessive. When her work performance and attendance continued to deteriorate, she was terminated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued on her behalf.
A federal district court in Michigan summarily dismissed the case, ruling that the employee’s telecommuting request was unreasonable as a matter of law. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal in EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5813 (6th Cir. Apr. 10, 2015) (en banc), holding that the employer acted reasonably and did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The appeals court emphasized the “common sense” notion that “[r]egular, in person attendance is an essential function… of most jobs, especially the interactive ones.”
In reaching this conclusion, the appeals court rejected the EEOC’s contention that the employer’s past allowance of telecommuting for other resale buyers created a factual dispute as to whether the employee’s specific request in this case was reasonable. The court observed that under the other telecommuting arrangements, no employee telecommuted more than one set day per week, and the employees agreed in advance to come into work on their telecommuting day if needed. These arrangements were a “far cry” from this employee’s request that she be allowed to work from home up to four days per week. The court also held that it was appropriate for the employer to consider the employee’s prior performance in denying her request, pointing out that the employee’s performance and attendance had been substandard when she had been granted a more limited telecommuting and flex-time arrangement in the past.