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Employment Blog

Working at Home May Not be a Reasonable Accommodation

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on January 8, 2015
Filed under Employment

In May 2014, I wrote a blog indicating a federal court of appeals decision suggested that a permanent assignment to working at home may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a disability. 

Another federal court of appeals, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Wisconsin), has taken a different view of working from home as a reasonable accommodation. In this decision, Taylor-Novotny v. Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc. 7th Cir., No. 13-3652, November 26, 2014, the company had a policy that allowed employees to work from home on a temporary basis when suffering from a disability or a condition that prevented the employee from actually coming to the workplace. An employee suffering from a disability sought permanent permission to work from home because of her disability and to avoid termination for excessive tardiness and failure to follow procedures for reporting tardiness. The court of appeals held that this permanent request would not constitute a reasonable accommodation because of the company’s requirement that employees report to the workplace. The company had established attendance and reporting to work on time as an essential requirement of all positions in the company. The court of appeals held that a request for permanent assignment to work at home did not satisfy this essential requirement of the job and therefore, the employee was “not a qualified person with a disability” to warrant protection under the ADA.

Working from home can certainly serve as an accommodation that must be provided by an employer depending upon the nature of the disability and the condition of the employee. We have always felt that working from home could be a temporary accommodation for a person suffering from a disability. We also felt it was not appropriate to have a permanent assignment to work at home. In fact, a federal court case from many years ago involving the University of Wisconsin System actually held that a permanent request to work from home was not appropriate. We now have another federal court case that supports that thinking.

Reasonable accommodations are very hard to address. Employees want the type of accommodation they feel will best suit their condition or situation, but the company must be sensitive to the essential functions performed by that employee. This case lends more support to a reasoned company decision about the accommodation requested by an employee.