If you let some but not all employees telecommute, you could wind up facing a discrimination lawsuit. Turning down a request to telecommute may qualify as an adverse employment action.
Recent case: Jackalin Williams, who is black, worked for Carolinas HealthCare System, based in Charlotte. She helped compile clinical data for submission to the federal government. When Carolinas HealthCare decided it needed more help in that department, it created a new position and promoted one of Williams’ co-workers into the spot.
Williams sued, alleging race discrimination. Her first claim was that she should have been promoted. She lost because she wasn’t as qualified as the chosen employee.
Williams also claimed that she had requested permission to work from home. The company allowed some employees to telecommute but had rejected Williams’ request. Carolinas HealthCare first argued that Williams couldn’t sue for discrimination based on the refusal to allow telecommuting because that refusal wasn’t the same as termination, a denied promotion or a demotion—actions typically considered adverse enough to trigger a lawsuit.
But the court disagreed. It said that being allowed to work from home is a benefit and can be the basis for a discrimination lawsuit. However, Carolinas HealthCare still won because Williams couldn’t show that her job could be performed from home. (Williams v. Carolinas HealthCare System, No. 3:1-CV-232, WD NC, 2011)