On April 10, 2015, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Ford Motor Company, which will not have to offer a telecommuting option to a worker with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because her job required on-site attendance and interpersonal skills.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Ford on behalf of Jane Harris, a Ford employee. Harris has IBS, and asked Ford to allow her to work from home on an as-needed basis, up to four days per week. Ford denied her request, because predictable and regular on-site attendance was essential to Harris’s highly interactive job. This prompted the EEOC to sue Ford under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to reasonably accommodate their disabled employees. The EEOC alleged that Ford failed to reasonably accommodate Harris by denying the telecommuting request. The district court granted summary judgment to Ford on both claims, and the Sixth Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s decision.
The Court found that a regular presence at work was an essential function of Harris’ job as a steel resale buyer. Resale buyers of steel purchase raw steel from suppliers, which resell it to parts manufacturers, which supply the parts to vehicle assemblers. The job is “highly interactive,” requiring “good, old-fashioned interpersonal skills.” As a result, Ford was not required to grant her request to telecommute.
The Court also noted that Ford’s papers and practices, and Harris’s overall poor work performance and several past telecommuting failures, backed up Ford’s business judgment in denying Harris’ request. Harris’ supervisor previously tried accommodating her by offering ad hoc telecommuting and flexible schedules, but even with this Harris “was unable to establish regular and consistent work hours” and failed “to perform the core objectives of the job.”
According to the Court, to be “qualified” under the ADA, Harris must be able to “perform the essential functions of a resale buyer” “with or without reasonable accommodation.” A “reasonable accommodation” may include “job restructuring
Sacramento, CA 95821