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A recent lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. regarding the denial of a disabled woman's request to telecommute is making headlines. The lawsuit, which has not yet been resolved, may leave people wondering if companies must allow disabled workers telecommute.
In general, companies aren't required by law to allow employees to telecommute. But if telecommuting is determined to be a "reasonable accommodation" for a worker who's classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, then companies may have to allow it for that person.
So under what circumstances must a disabled worker be allowed to telecommute?
What's a Disability?
Under the ADA, a person is disabled if the individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities are ones that are basic components of that person's life, including walking, talking, seeing, and learning.
Workers with disabilities who can adequately perform the essential duties of the job are entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA. This can mean flexible or modified work schedules or modifying existing equipment. Unless there's an undue hardship on the employer, the company will have to accommodate the worker.
So if a worker is classified as disabled under the ADA and telecommuting can reasonably accommodate his or her disability, an employer must allow the worker to do so unless there are other reasonable alternatives.
Telecommuting can be beneficial for both the company and employees. companies can save money on the cost of office space and energy consumption when the person is working from home and employees can avoid long commutes by telecommuting.
However, there are some legal concerns to consider with telecommuting. If a company has a telecommuting policy, it should be in writing and enforced equally among all employees. Likewise, there should be a written policy that addresses when the telecommuting privilege can be revoked. If the policies are applied arbitrarily, businesses could be opening themselves up for a lawsuit.
Here's a scenario: A disabled worker regularly telecommutes and follows the company's policy, but complains to management about the company's failure to accommodate his or her disability. As a result of the complaint, the company revokes the disabled worker's telecommuting privileges, but allows everyone else to continue telecommuting. Under these circumstances, the disabled worker may have grounds for filing an EOCC complaint based on discrimination.
So if you think your employer's telecommuting policy is discriminating against your disabiilty, you'll want to consult an experienced employment law attorney to figure out your next move.