Best Employment Law Answer: Are employers required to offer employees with disabilities the option to work from home? What should I do if I have a disability that makes physically being at work impossible? Can my employer refuse to allow me to telecommute even when I can perform all my required tasks from home? What should I do if I was wrongfully fired for being disabled? How do I find the best Ohio disability discrimination attorney?
All employees are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and R.C. § 4112.02(A) from being discriminated against or retaliated against by their employers on the basis of their actual or perceived disability. The ADA also requires employers to accommodate disabled employees if the accommodation permits the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job without creating undue hardship for the employer. As we have previously discussed on this blog, examples of reasonable accommodations that employers are required to offer include acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, offering part time hours or a modified schedule, making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, and adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies.
Let’s say that an employee has a disability that makes physically being at work extremely difficult or even impossible, and this employee can only perform all of the essential functions of his or her job while “telecommuting” at home. Would the employer be required under the ADA to accommodate this employee’s need to work at home? Previously, the answer to that question from courts around the country was no. However, a ruling handed down on April 21, 2014 from the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (the federal appellate court covering Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee) opened the door for employees with disabilities to request that a work-at-home accommodation be honored by his or her employer.
In EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., an employee was unable to travel to or remain physically at her job at a Ford stamping plant because of a disability, irritable bowel syndrome. The employee presented evidence that her job’s essential tasks, which centered around acting as an intermediary between steel suppliers and stamping plants, could successfully be performed from her home using a combination of email and teleconference. In fact, her employer had in place a “telecommuting policy” that allowed certain employees to work from home for up to four days a week. When the employee attempted to utilize the “telecommuting policy,” her employer denied the request under the guise that her position required “teamwork,” which was best fostered face-to-face, and not through email or teleconference. The employee filed suit under the ADA seeking that she be allowed to work from home because she can properly perform the essential tasks of her position away from the physical jobsite.
The Sixth Circuit ruled for the employee and struck down the employer’s argument that the essential functions of the employee’s job could only be performed on-site. The Sixth Circuit sent the case back down to the trial court to determine if the employer’s policy of permitting four days a week of telecommuting would accommodate the employee’s disability. The court commented:
When we first developed the principle that attendance is an essential requirement of most jobs, technology was such that the workplace and an employer’s brick-and-mortar location were synonymous. However, as technology has advanced in the intervening decades, and an ever-greater number of employers and employees utilize remote work arrangements, attendance at the workplace can no longer be assumed to mean attendance at the employer’s physical location. Instead, 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.
The Sixth Circuit’s decision will certainly help those employees who are unable to physically attend work on a regular basis due to a debilitating and/or embarrassing condition. While this case will not apply to many positions where physical attendance at the jobsite is obviously essential to the position, it will allow relief for many who can properly perform their jobs from home with the help of email, teleconference, videoconference and other emerging technology. A key issue in this case was that there was already a telecommuting policy in place that showed it was not a hardship on the employer to make it a disability accommodation. The Ford Motor Co. decision also puts employers on notice that under the ADA, automatically denying work-at-home accommodations against employees with disabilities may now be actionable in the state of Ohio and elsewhere.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if…” or “can my boss fired me for …”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.