Do Employees Have the Right to Work From Home?

You're Hired!There’s nothing wrong with requiring employees to show up at the office to work, right?  That question used to be a no-brainer, but a recent decision by a federal Appellate Court for the Sixth Circuit may change the answer.   

The case concerned an employee who suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, which at times prevented her from driving to work, and or even caused her to to soil herself.  Unhappy with this state of affairs, she requested her employer to allow her to work from home up to four days a week. Her employer rejected her request on the grounds that the nature of her job required her to interact with her coworkers and others. The employee was ultimately terminated for poor performance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on her behalf, alleging that the company failed to accommodate the employee. The District Court ruled in the employer’s favor, finding that the request to telecommute up to four days a week was not a reasonable accommodation.

The Appellate Court disagreed. Despite finding that “the essence” of the employee’s job involved “group problem solving” which required her to work with her coworkers and suppliers “whenever problems arose,” it rejected the employer’s claim that such duties could not be performed from home. Instead, the court found that modern technology makes it possible for many employees to do their jobs from any location, and that “the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context, as it has in other areas of modern life, and recognize that the “workplace” is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties.”

Needless to say, this decision could have a profound impact on employers everywhere, as previous cases have ruled that telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation only in unusual circumstances.  Regardless of whether other courts follow the Sixth Circuit’s lead, every employer should take technology into account when an employee requests to work from home due to a disability.  If the employee is capable of performing his job from home, the employer should think twice before denying his request.    In addition to avoiding a potential lawsuit, here’s another upside:  If you have to terminate the employee, you no longer have to stress about escorting him off the premises

Author: Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.
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