Telecommuting as an ADA accommodation: Maybe; maybe not

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

Last month, Jon Hyman posted (here) 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.

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 also has some good tips in his post 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.

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