Is Being at the Office an Essential Function? Maybe Not

When an employee requested to work from home full-time to accommodate her disabling irritable bowel syndrome under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), her employer refused, stating that the company stressed in-person teamwork. The district court agreed with the employer and found that the employee’s accommodation request was not reasonable.   The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed.  In EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, No. 12-2484 (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2014), the Sixth Circuit held that a request to work from home full-time might be a reasonable accommodation under certain circumstances, and reversed the district court’s summary judgment grant.

As an employer, if you would like employees to work at the office, we recommend you plan for this now. The reasonableness of an employee’s request to work remotely will depend on each specific job’s requirements. Written job descriptions that stress activities that cannot be performed remotely are key.  And keep in mind that when an employee requests an accommodation such as working remotely, you most likely will have to engage in the interactive process if you want to avoid liability.  This means you cannot just say no – you must first talk to the employee and find out what the employee needs and how (if at all) you can reasonably accommodate that need.  If you would like help revising your job descriptions or going through the interactive process, please contact your lawyer or let us know if we can help.