The 6th Circuit’s telecommuting decision in EEOC v. Ford Motor Co. has been creating a buzz in the employment law community. Since the concept of telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation is not necessarily innovative, the buzz must be coming from the way in which the court appeared to bend over backwards to declare that telecommuting could have been a reasonable accommodation in this specific instance. Rather than offer my own critique of the case, check out this blog and this one here or maybe this one if you haven’t got enough yet. Instead, let’s see what the 8th Circuit and Iowa courts have said about telecommuting.
It’s true, my cursory search of “telecommute” and “reasonable accommodation” in Iowa and the 8th Circuit through my online legal research provider yielded one unpublished one page opinion on telecommuting from 2002. In Morrissey v. General Mills, Inc, the court found that allowing Morrissey to telecommute would have placed an undue burden on General Mills. Morrissey’s job as an inventory accountant required her to review only original invoices. The invoices would have had to be delivered by a courier, which would have possibly led to the disclosure of proprietary information. The invoices would also have had to be logged out and back in, creating additional work for the other inventory accountant. According to the court, employers are not required to hire additional personnel, risk disclosure of confidential documents, or increase the workload of other personnel to accommodate a disabled employee. Telecommuting was not a reasonable accommodation based on the facts presented.
The decision is clearly not a blanket opposition to telecommuting. These facts simply weren't the right facts to support telecommuting. As telecommuting becomes more acceptable, requests to telecommute by employees with disabilities will increase. Be prepared for these requests. Examine your job descriptions and your current telecommuting policies. Do they need to be revised or updated? Have you adequately set out the need for an employee's presence in the workplace? Do you know what technology or workplace changes would need to be made if a request to telecommute was made? Be proactive, not reactive because it's only a matter of time before a telecommuting request is made by one of your employees.