Employers continue to face disability discrimination claims from employees who argue that their medical conditions give them a right to work from home as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On August 15, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals became the latest federal court to reject this assertion on the basis that the employee could not adequately perform her work functions from home.
In Everett v. Grady Mem. Hosp. Corp., the plaintiff was the hospital’s manager of its car seat program for newborns. She developed pregnancy complications, and the hospital placed her on FMLA leave. She instead contended that she should be allowed to work from home during the pendency of her pregnancy. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the plaintiff’s essential job functions included teaching classes, distributing car seats, attending management meetings, and supervising other employees, none of which could be effectively conducted from home.
In an unpublished decision, the Eleventh Circuit agreed, affirming the dismissal. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that her primary job functions involved coordination of the car seat program, and that she could remotely perform these duties. The court noted that the plaintiff’s self-prepared work schedules demonstrated that she spent a significant part of her workday on the teaching and management functions noted by the district court. These duties would have to be shifted to other employees, making the telecommuting request outside the scope of reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
We have seen a steadily increasing number of employee telecommuting requests and subsequent legal claims. For employers resistant to these requests, creating and updating accurate written job descriptions showing the essential functions of the job are crucial to legally supporting these decisions. When these essential functions demonstrate the need to actually be at work to accomplish them, federal courts have generally deferred to the employer’s determinations on telecommuting requests.