Telecommuting and the Americans with Disabilities Act

A recent decision from the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that working remotely can be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers should always remain cautious about applying rigid and inflexible rules to requests for reasonable accommodations.

In Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, the Plaintiff was an in-house employment attorney for Memphis Light. After a history of miscarriages, her physician placed her on bed rest for the last 10 weeks of her pregnancy. The Plaintiff requested that she be allowed to work from home as an accommodation. Her employer denied the request. The 6th circuit found that she could perform the essential functions of her job remotely for the applicable time period. It also found that other employees had been allowed to work from home without objection. Therefore, the Court upheld the jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff finding that her employer had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The real lesson from cases such as this is inflexible policies simply do not work with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers need to engage in an interactive process to prove and determine whether or not an accommodation is reasonable and does not create an undue hardship. Time and time again employers apply a policy without thought and are found liable. More specifically to this case, working from home with the technologies of the time, could certainly be found to be reasonable in certain circumstances.  Therefore, carefully consider all aspects of any request before deciding whether or not to deny it. If in doubt, discuss the issue with your attorney.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact its author, Mark Sauer, at 715-8456-8234 or msauer@mzattys.com.

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