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Telecommuting and Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA

Last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals caused alarm for employers in EEOC v Ford Motor Company , 752 F.3d (6th Cir. 2014), when it held that an employee was entitled to a trial on her claim that she remained qualified for work despite her inability to attend work with regularity.  The plaintiff, Jane Harris, a Ford Motor Company employee with irritable bowel syndrome, sought a job schedule of her choosing:  to work from home on an as-needed basis, up to four days per week.   Ford denied her request deeming regular and predictable on-site attendance essential to the plaintiff’s highly interactive job. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that an issue of fact existed as to whether such a requested accommodation was reasonable and whether the employer failed to properly accommodate her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Court granted en banc review of this decision and on April 10, 2015,  issued an opinion stating that regular in-person attendance is an essential function of most jobs, especially ones that require interaction with co-workers and clients.  The Court analyzed the particular responsibilities of plaintiff’s job and determined that regular work attendance was essential to the plaintiff’s job; and working from home up to four days per week was not a reasonable accommodation.  The Court granted summary judgment on behalf of Ford Motor Company.  The en banc decision of the Sixth Circuit is positive for employers but it did not rule out entirely telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Employers must continue to examine job descriptions to ensure they clearly state the essential functions of the job, and continue to engage in the interactive process with employees who request accommodations.  Please contact a member of our Labor and Employment section with any questions or for more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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