The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not require employers to agree to allow employees to work from home based on medical restrictions. The Americans with Disabilities Act may require employers to provide such arrangements as a form of reasonable accommodation of the employee’s own disabling medical condition. Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the FMLA’s anti-retaliation provisions apply in an unusual situation where an employee combined working from home with leave to care for a child with a serious health condition.
In Wink v. Miller Compressing Co., the plaintiff had an autistic son. After she lost her daycare arrangement, the employer agreed to allow intermittent FMLA leave in which the plaintiff worked part-time, two days per week from home, and cared for her son for the remainder of those days. When the employer began facing financial difficulties, it told the plaintiff that it was ending the arrangement, and that she would immediately have to begin working full-time at the office. When the plaintiff objected to this change, she claimed that the defendant terminated her employment.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed a $300,000 jury verdict for the plaintiff. The court said that the jury had adequate evidence to conclude that the plaintiff was fired in retaliation because the employer was angry with her request to continue working from home. Even though the FMLA does not require that employers agree to a work from home arrangement, in this case the employee was spending part of those days caring for a child with a serious health condition. Therefore, ending that intermittent leave provided the legal basis for the retaliation verdict.
If the employer declined the home work arrangement at the outset, the employee presumably could have taken full or partial days from work under FMLA to care for her son. At times when the employee was not providing such care, the employer could require that she work from the office. Although unusual, employers should thoroughly consider these split-time working arrangements before agreeing to put them into place.