In recent years, federal courts have increasingly been called upon to decide whether employers must provide accommodations relating to disabled employees’ commutes to and from work. The EEOC and some federal courts have concluded that such requests fall within the Americans with Disabilities Act’s accommodation requirements. Other courts view commuting as a means to work, not a work function that requires accommodation. Earlier this month in an unpublished decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employer was not required to provide flexible hours to an employee who claimed anxiety issues relating to rush-hour traffic.
In Trautman v. Time Warner Cable Texas, LLC, the plaintiff claimed that driving in heavy traffic triggered panic attacks and asked that she be able to leave work early and work from home to avoid these situations. The employer offered multiple alternative accommodations such as flexible hours and use of public transportation but ultimately decided that it needed the plaintiff in the office during working hours. She missed substantial amounts of work and was terminated based on absenteeism.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s ADA and FMLA claims. Although it did not address the question of requiring commuting accommodations under the ADA, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to take advantage of the alternative effective accommodations offered by the employer. Legally protected excuses to avoid rush-hour traffic might prove very popular among employees, and the Fifth Circuit fortunately found that employees have no general rights under the ADA to simply leave work early.