Working from Home: Benefit or Risk?
Technology that allows efficient work while traveling (and during vacations and weekends) has also opened up the concept of employees regularly working at home. Sometimes this is in other cities and states, and oftentimes it is in their home in the same city and state as the employer they work for. Many businesses have created competitive advantages by getting the best talent possible no matter where they are located.
The other side of the shiny coin regarding working at home is that it is often difficult to supervise that work. In addition, collaboration and face-to-face communications are made more difficult. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, has been chastised in the press because her HR head issued a memo that said, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. . . . That is why it is critical that we are present in our offices.”
In addition to the debate about whether working from home is a benefit to the business, there is also the issue of whether working at home is a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If employees without disabilities are allowed to work from home, it is very difficult to argue that employees who are similarly situated and who require an accommodation should not have the accommodation of working from home.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ford Motor Company
, decided April 22, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, overturned a summary judgment in Ford’s favor and held that it was a triable issue as to whether a telecommuting arrangement could be a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. The Court ruled:
“We have previously concluded that telecommuting is not a reasonable accommodation for most jobs, but there may be unusual cases when telecommuting is reasonable because the employee can effectively perform all work-related duties at home. However, as we noted above, the classic cases in which an employee can fulfill all requirements of the job while working remotely has greatly expanded.” (internal citations omitted)
Decisions like EEOC v. Ford
offer a roadmap for employees looking to transform their office jobs into work from home opportunities. Employers are generally aware that there are costs to set up work at home employment. Setting aside the quantifiable monetary expense associated with establishing and monitoring a remote workforce (equipment, productivity monitoring systems, data security systems, time tracking systems, and remote training programs), there is significant value to the camaraderie, cooperation, and collegiality that only comes from working side-by-side with your peers.
An effective tool for avoiding the situation in EEOC v. Ford
is a workforce audit. This involves monitoring employees’ job duties and comparing these duties to the employees’ job descriptions. The workforce should be evaluated in a manner that documents employees’ daily tasks and identifies employees’ essential job functions. Job descriptions should then be updated to reflect employees’ actual duties including, if applicable, the essential nature of in-office attendance.
For more information on reasonable accommodations and workplace best practices, please contact Felix “Pete” Wade
at 614-462-2276 or Pete.Wade@icemiller.com
, or any member of Ice Miller’s Labor and Employment group
This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.