Flip-side of Yahoo debate: Is flextime required?

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Yahoo’s CEO got caught in a major media firestorm last month over her decision to eliminate employees’ work-from-home options.

But employers should not get Yahoo’s business mandate confused with the legal obligations of every U.S. employer to consider flexible work arrangements for their disabled employees.

Even Yahoo must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state disability law. As the following ruling shows, that means you may have to loosen up rigid rules on when employees need to be at work—and how punctual they need to be in arriving.   

Case in point: Rodney, an HR case manager for a New York City service agency, suffered from schizophrenia. His morning medications cause him to feel drowsy and sluggish, so he took advantage of his employer’s flextime policy. It said workers could arrive anytime between 9 and 10 a.m.—with 10:15 being considered late. They could leave any time between 5 and 6 p.m., provided they work 35 hours per week.

Rodney’s late arrivals were approved for a while. But one day, his boss told him he could no longer be late. The boss suggested Rodney ask his doctor to change his medication regimen. The doctor said he couldn’t.

Eventually, Rodney was suspended without pay for his late arrivals. He formally requested as an accommodation for his schizophrenia, allowing him to arrive before 11 a.m. The request was denied without talking to him.

He sued under the ADA, saying he frequently worked later than 7 p.m. and was willing to work through lunch to cover his late arrivals. The court sided with Rodney, saying physical presence isn’t an essential function of all jobs. (McMillan v. City of New York, 2nd Cir.)

Final tips: The court stressed that each situation must be viewed on a case-by-case basis, and em­­ployers must engage in an “interactive proc­­ess” with disabled workers to find reasonable accommodations, which sometimes require a flexible schedule.

Also, be careful when you change the rules. The appeals court said Rodney’s lack of punctuality was acceptable in the past. When the rules changed, something smelled fishy.

Yahoo may have changed its own rules, but it didn’t change our laws.

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