The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that allow disabled employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Over the years, federal appellate courts have reached different conclusions regarding an employer’s obligation to assist a worker with their commute to and from work. Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals joined the appellate circuits that have found a duty to accommodate an employee’s commute in some circumstances.
In EEOC v. Charter Communications, LLC, the employee developed cataracts and requested a change of schedule to a day shift due to his problems driving at night. The employer suggested some alternative measures to assist the employee with getting to and from work, but it ultimately denied the requested accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long taken the position that the ADA requires commuting accommodations. The EEOC sued on behalf of the employee, alleging failure to accommodate.
The district court dismissed the claim, concluding that the employee did not need any accommodations related to his work. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed this decision, remanding the case for trial. The court said that under some circumstances, employers can be required to provide accommodations to assist with an employee’s commute. These situations include requests that are entirely within the employer’s control, such as a shift change. The company would not have to accommodate commuting problems beyond its control such as the distance from the employee’s residence to work or unreliable public transportation.
In this case, the shift change was requested for the sole purpose of allowing a safer commute. The Seventh Circuit commented that most commuting issues will fall outside of this exception and not require the employer to assist the disabled worker. Before responding to employees' requests for an accommodation relating to their travel to and from work, employers should confirm with legal counsel the legal standard in place in that location, as well as the specific reason for and nature of the requested accommodation.