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Employment Blog

A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has opened the door to the argument that an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation of allowing an employee to work from home instead of being at the office. In this decision, the Court of Appeals held that an employer cannot automatically require that actual presence at a physical site is an essential part of a job. The potential impact of this decision is enormous.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought an action against Ford Motor Company on behalf of an employee that suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The employee was responsible for addressing emergency situations when supplies were not available for the company or its manufacturers and was responsible for ensuring that supplies would be immediately provided to the manufacturer to ensure continued production of cars. The employee asked to work from home several days a week because of her medical condition, but Ford Motor Company took the position that she had to work at the office because physical presence was a requirement of the position and interacting with other employees in emergency situations was part of her job responsibilities.

The Court of Appeals held that attendance was an essential function of the job in the past, but technology has changed over the years and an ever increasing number of employers and employees are utilizing work from home arrangements such that attendance at a workplace can no longer be assumed to be an actual requirement of the job. The Court found that Ford Motor Company did not meet its burden to prove that physical presence at a work site was an essential function of her work duties.

This is an opening of the door to the notion that employers may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation of allowing somebody to work from home. In our new age of technology and telecommunications, employers will be required to show the absolute necessity for an employee to be at the workplace rather than on a computer screen interacting with other employees. Employers should start now by modifying their job descriptions to clearly indicate why it is necessary for an employee to be at the workplace and interacting with other employees.