In a break from precedent, the Sixth Circuit recognized that modern technology has changed the workplace so that many employees' jobs many now be accomplished away from the office, and even done at home. "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." E.E.O.C. v. Ford Motor Co., 2014 WL 1584674, at *6 (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2014).
The Sixth Circuit further clarified its position on whether an employee's physical presence at the worksite was an essential function of the job as follows: "It is important, at this juncture, to clarify that we are not rejecting the long line of precedent recognizing predictable attendance as an essential function of most jobs. Nor are we claiming that, because technology has advanced, most modern jobs are amenable to remote work arrangements. As we discussed above, many jobs continue to require physical presence because the employee must interact directly with people or objects at the worksite. We are merely recognizing that, given the state of modern technology, it is no longer the case that jobs suitable for telecommuting are "extraordinary" or "unusual." When we decided Smith in 1997, we responded to the world as it then existed; however, in the intervening years, communications technology has advanced to the point that it is no longer an "unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties from home." In this case, we respond to the world as it exists now, and conclude that there is a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Harris can perform all of her job duties from a remote location." E.E.O.C. v. Ford Motor Co., 2014 WL 1584674, at *11 (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2014).
This decision is good news for employees with disabilities and provides new opportunities for employees to continue being productive team members despite their disabilities.