The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and who can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. While the obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation is clear, the question of whether a particular accommodation is reasonable is often disputed in cases under the ADA. One particular accommodation that employers often resist is allowing an employee to work from home, or telecommute. However, in a recent case, Mosby-Meacham v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, located in Ohio, ruled that an employer violated the ADA by denying the employee’s request to work from home for ten (10) weeks.
In Mosby-Meacham, the employee worked as a lawyer for the company, and was placed on bed rest due to complications with her pregnancy. The employee requested permission to work from home for the duration of her bed rest as a reasonable accommodation for her disability, but the employer denied her request, claiming that she could not perform the essential functions of her job from home. At trial, the jury found in favor of the employee and she was awarded relief for the damages caused by the denial of the accommodation. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit upheld the verdict in favor of the employee based on the evidence presented at the trial that the employee could perform all of the essential functions of her job from home.
Importantly, the Court of Appeals rejected the employer’s argument that working from home can never be a reasonable accommodation. Even though the employee’s job description identified certain job duties as essential functions, such as taking depositions and trying cases in court, the employee presented evidence that she had never taken a deposition or tried a case in court at any time during her eight years of employment with the defendant. The employee also presented testimony from other lawyers that worked her who supported her claim that she could have performed her essential job duties from home, and she had worked from home without incident in the past. It was also important that the request to work from home in this case was for a limited period of time of only ten weeks.
This case represents an important example that working from home can be, in some situations, a reasonable accommodation under the ADA that employers are required to provide, particularly if the request to work from home is for a limited period of time.