Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Telecommuting May Be A Reasonable Accommodation Under The ADA

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ford Motor Company, No. 12-2484 (6th Cir. 2014), the issue was whether a telecommuting arrangement could be a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a debilitating disability. Charging party Jane Harris (“Harris”) was terminated from her position as a resale steel buyer at Ford Motor Co. (“Ford”), after she asked to telecommute several days per week in an attempt to control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) argues that Ford discriminated against Harris on the basis of her disability and retaliated against her for filing a charge with the EEOC. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ford, and Harris appeals.

In analyzing the case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), an employer discriminates against an employee if it does not make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee, unless [the employer] can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. “42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5). Harris is indisputably disabled under the ADA, and has provided evidence to establish that she is “otherwise qualified” for her position at Ford. Further the EEOC can demonstrate that Harris was qualified for the resale buyer position with a reasonable accommodation for her disability, namely a telecommuting arrangement. But is telecommuting a “reasonable accommodation”?

The Court continued by saying that it has previously concluded that telecommuting is not a reasonable accommodation for most jobs. However, there may be unusual cases when telecommuting is reasonable because the employee can effectively perform all work-related duties at home. In this case, the EEOC has presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine factual dispute as to whether Harris is one of those employees who can effectively work from home, and Ford has not shown that such arrangement would create undue hardship for Ford.

Further, as to the claim of retaliation, the EEOC evidence creates a genuine dispute as to whether Ford was truly motivated by retaliatory intent or by a reasoned business decision to terminate an underperforming employee. This is