Legal Briefing: Telecommuting as a Reasonable Accommodation


Aug. 4, 2014

Jane Harris, a Ford Motor Co. employee, requested that the employer allow her to work from home four days per week because of her irritable bowel syndrome, but the automaker denied her request and terminated her for failing to meet performance goals.

Harris filed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge of discrimination alleging that Ford failed to accommodate her disability. The EEOC sued Ford on Harris’ behalf.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted summary judgment for Ford because the EEOC could not show Harris was “qualified” because the proposed accommodation would not allow her to perform the essential function of her job of collaborating with her team for which physical presence in the office was necessary. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed and remanded the case for trial, and held that the EEOC raised a triable issue Harris could perform all the job’s essential functions through regular attendance by technological means without causing Ford undue hardship. The court stated that “the world has changed since the foundational opinions regarding physical presence in the workplace were issued.” EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., No. 12-2484 6th Cir.(April 22, 2014).

IMPACT: Employers should not automatically rule out telecommuting options as reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

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