Employee admits that attendance on the reg is essential, so telecommuting isn’t a reasonable accommodation

302/365 ~ Perfect Attendance #award

That’s pretty much what happened in this recent Eleventh Circuit opinion.

We’ve gone over this before.

There are certain jobs that don’t require regular in-person attendance. And then there’s the plaintiff’s full-time Purchasing Agent position for the City of Tallahassee, which is the central focus of Garrison v. City of Tallahassee (opinion here).

The plaintiff, herself, testified that part of her job included working directly with internal department representatives — both in person and over the phone — and interacting with outside vendors, some of whom would arrive unannounced to the office for assistance. Garrison was also responsible for conducting vendor training sessions and for serving, at any one time, on “multiple”
committees for the selection of vendors.

When the plaintiff was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the City provided her with a smorgasbord of accommodations. However, attendance problems were an issue, notwithstanding a flexible work schedule. So, she asked to telecommute. And the City said no.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, plaintiff claims a failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation? Sometimes yes, but, not this time.

The ADA protects qualified individuals with a disability. A qualified individual is someone who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.The essential functions of a position “are the fundamental job duties of a position that an individual with a disability is actually required to perform.”

Here, the appellate court afforded substantial weight to the City’s own determination that regular attendance was an essential job function. But, then, a strange thing happened. The plaintiff, who claimed that she was denied telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation, agreed with her employer. Now, if only she had come to that realization a few years ago before filing her lawsuit, but I digress…

 Garrison’s own testimony establishes that her job required her to communicate regularly — both in person and over the phone — with internal department representatives and with external vendors, some of whom would arrive at the office without prior notice. Garrison also conducted vendor training sessions and served on multiple vendor-selection committees, both of which required her to be present in the office. In the light of this evidence, the district court concluded correctly that Garrison’s position was customer-service oriented and that being physically present in the office during regular business hours was an essential function of Garrison’s job.

Garrison has identified no reasonable accommodation that would have allowed her to perform the essential functions of her job.

So, when is attendance an essential function of the jobs in your workplace? What are you asking me for?!? It’s your company! If you want attendance to be an essential job function of a job, treat it as such. Put it in the job description. Train your managers. Hold employees accountable.

But, if the need for accommodation arises, be prepared to discuss alternative options in good faith.

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