Full Sixth Circuit Strikes Blow to Telecommuting as Reasonable Accommodation

April 15, 2015

Reversing a three-judge panel decision finding that telecommuting up to four days per week was a reasonable accommodation, the full Sixth Circuit recently took a harsh line against telecommuting. Describing the plaintiff steel buyer's job as an "interactive" job that requires "interfacing and teamwork", the Sixth Circuit re-stated the old rule that physical attendance at work is generally an "essential function" of every job. Thus, according to the Court, telecommuting would "fundamentally" alter an essential job function. While the Court's opinion was very biased toward employers, it did tacitly provide a blueprint as to situations where telecommuting could be considered reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. For example, the Court recognized that if an employer allows telecommuting to similarly-situated workers for three days per week, then a request for a three-day telecommuting assignment would be arguably a reasonable accommodation. However, in situations where the employer has not previously allowed telecommuting, a worker's request to do so is more questionable and likely to be deemed "unreasonable". The Sixth Circuit's opinion, however, was not unanimous. Judge Karen Nelson Moore filed a lengthy dissent, which was joined by four other judges, including the Chief Judge. To view the full opinion, see EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, No. 12–2484, 2015 WL 1600305 (6th Cir. Apr. 10, 2015).

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