Reasonable Accommodation: Working from Home?
The ADA generally does not require an employer to allow a disabled employee to work at home. However, there may be exceptions. A recent case in federal court in Ohio ruled that an employer can’t dismiss such requests out of hand as unreasonable. Instead, the ultimate determination of reasonableness is a question for the fact-finder.
According to the lawsuit, an employee in a county job had asthma and a severe chemical sensitivity to certain perfumes. At work, she had trouble breathing when she was near some of her co-workers who wore a particular scent. The employee requested that her employer ask her co-workers to refrain from wearing that scent to work, but the employer took no action. She eventually ended up seeking emergency medical treatment. The employer sent a memo saying that employees should communicate with her via email and phone, rather than going into her office, or meet with her in open, well-ventilated spaces, but the employee soon went on leave. She then requested, as an accommodation, to be allowed to work at home to avoid exposure to the perfume in the workplace. The employer rejected that request, and she sued.
The court cited a 17-year-old decision that said it would take an “extraordinary case” for the employee to create a triable issue out of an employer’s failure to allow an employee to work at home. The court then noted that since the time of that earlier decision, “communications technology has advanced to such a state that the proposition of employees working from home is not quite as burdensome or untenable as it was perhaps in 1995. Today, in this court’s view, it may not take ‘a very extraordinary case…’ Nevertheless, the ultimate determination of reasonableness is a fact specific inquiry and a question for the fact-finder.”
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