Telecommuting as a Legal Obligation? Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Considers Influential Case

In the digital age, can employers still require regular, reliable, in-person attendance, or must they now permit “telecommuting” whenever it might help accommodate an employee’s medical condition?  On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will take up a landmark case addressing whether telecommuting is a required “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In that case, EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., the majority of a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit originally ruled that Ford should have allowed an employee with severe and unpredictable irritable bowel syndrome to telecommute four out of five days a week as an accommodation under the ADA, despite the fact that her job required significant “face time” and entailed other obstacles to performing her duties remotely. The panel decision has been vacated, and the case will be reheard en banc (that is, by all of the Sixth Circuit judges).  “The impact of the court’s ultimate decision will extend beyond employers in Sixth Circuit states (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee),” says Mark Girouard, an employment attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis, “as it is certain to guide how other courts interpret employers’ accommodation obligations, as well as how aggressively the EEOC and private litigants will pursue telecommuting as an accommodation.” Mark Girouard is available to discuss the this case and the EEOC’s current approach to telecommuting and related accommodations under the ADA.  Contact Mark Girouard at mgirouard@nilanjohnson.com or 612.305.7579.