HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Is Telecommuting a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?

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By Eric B. Meyer

Much has been written lately in the blogosphere about telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for qualifying disabled employees.

Last month, Jon Hyman wrote about this case, in which a federal court in Ohio held that telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation based on the unique facts concerning the employee and the workplace — and that issue was up to a jury to determine.

Earlier this month, I came across another case (EEOC v. Ford Motor Co.), in which a Michigan federal court also recognized that telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation. However, unlike the prior Ohio decision, the Michigan court recognized that there are some telecommuting arrangements that are just so impractical that no jury would conclude that telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation.

Court refuses to second-guess Ford managers

In Ford Motor Co., the court refused to second guess the business judgment of Ford’s managers who concluded that the plaintiff could not work from home on a regular basis for up to four days a week. The court further noted that no other employees who held the same position as the plaintiff were allowed to telecommute that often.

It also found credible Ford’s evidence that frequent, unpredictable absences negatively affected the plaintiff’s performance and increased the workload on her colleagues. Consequently, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that Ford had failed to accommodate her disability.

The EEOC, which lost the Ford Motor Co. case, has published some guidance on telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation. Jon Hyman also has some good tips in his regarding telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation. Against the backdrop of the Ford Motor Co. decision, Jon’s most notable tip is documenting the cost of establishing and monitoring an effective telecommuting program.

Ultimately, each telecommuting request or, for that matter, any reasonable accommodation request, should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis after discussion with the employee about the various reasonable accommodation options.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .
  • Deans Surveys

    I do have some questions with this article, such as was this employee hired before disability or
    after? If the employee was hired before disability and then became so this would provide
    questions about what does a company do when an employee becomes disable. On the other
    hand if the company hires the person as already disabled, you end up with a whole new set of
    discussions. I just felt there are some loose ends in the article.