Sixth Circuit’s Decision on ADA Teleworking is Good News for All Employers

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Ford Motor Company was not required to allow an employee to telework four days a week when her job required regular and predictable in-person attendance. EEOC v. Ford Motor Co. (6th Cir. 2015). This decision was good news for all employers.

In this case, the employee suffered from severe, debilitating irritable bowel syndrome. Her disability caused her to have very poor attendance for several years. She missed an average of 1.5 days per week in 2008, and was absent more than she was present in 2009. Her supervisors worked with her, offering telecommuting up to two days a week as an accommodation. Asserting that it was “self-evident” that technology has advanced to the point that at least some of the essential functions could be completed at home, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that Ford failed to accommodate the employee by refusing to approve her request to telework up to four days per week.

The court disagreed with the EEOC’s reasoning. At least two of the essential functions required physical presence at the office. Therefore, the court held that the employee was not qualified for the position because she could not maintain predictable physical attendance at the job.

Despite advances in technology, an employee is not automatically granted telework as an Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation. If the essential functions of the position require a certain level of physical attendance to be completed, the employee must meet those requirements to be qualified for the position. Employers should note, however, that this determination is very fact specific to the position in question. Each telework accommodation request should be analyzed to determine if it is appropriate in that situation.