Telecommuting: Benefit or Accommodation?

June 11, 2012 – In The News
Human Resource Executive

Wayne E. Pinkstone was quoted in the Human Resource Executive article “Telecommuting: Benefit or Accommodation?” While the full text can be found in the June 11, 2014, issue of Human Resource Executive, a synopsis is noted below.

A U.S. district court in Michigan acknowledged in EEOC v. Ford Motor Co. that employers are entitled to judge whether it is acceptable for their employees to work from home. However, the Sixth Circuit recently reversed the grant of summary judgment, thereby sending the decision back to trial for a jury to decide.

Pinkstone says that EEOC V. Ford is “reflective of the interplay between existing laws and advances in technology that allow for something that would not have existed 10 years ago. This case, at least in the Sixth Circuit, broadens the potential that offering telecommuting as an accommodation by an employer could be deemed reasonable under the circumstances.”

He advises HR leaders to keep apprised of case law and how it’s interpreted. “This case in particular really changes the dynamic in dealing with accommodation issues,” he says, acknowledging the fact that past opinions have said presence at work is almost always an essential function. “That might not be the case now, and it’s important to keep up to date with these changes.”

It’s also important for HR to get involved in situations like the one presented in this case, says Pinkstone. “Companies as a whole must train their managers to review these issues with HR before taking action. The court is dealing with an important issue, but these occurrences are fact-specific and depend on the situation.”

“In EEOC v Ford, the employee is saying that [working in the office] is not an essential function, but is she really the one who should be deciding that? I don’t think so; it’s something for the employer to decide. It is somewhat disconcerting that the court is taking this approach.”