Sometimes, employees suggest telecommuting as an accommodation if they have temporary disabilities, are slowly recovering from serious health conditions or are otherwise unable to perform all the essential functions of their jobs because coming to the office is difficult or impossible.
Telecommuting may be possible for some kinds of jobs. But in other cases, the job itself may make telecommuting impossible. That was the case in one recent lawsuit.
Recent case: Anita Smith-Henze worked for a social service agency. Since 1973, she had been the executive assistant to the board of directors. Her responsibilities included running board meetings, taking minutes, coordinating public relations, working on fundraising and managing the executive director’s schedule. She also did considerable typing as part of her job.
When Smith-Henze tripped on a misplaced telephone cord, she injured her knee and needed a lengthy leave of absence. She also received workers’ . Her employer tracked her concurrent with her workers’ comp leave.
When Smith-Henze ran out of leave, the agency paid her (and her medical insurance premiums) for several months.
Meanwhile, Smith-Henze said she was disabled and asked for reasonable accommodations. She suggested she could perform her job from home, using a computer to type. The organization nixed the idea because typing was just a small part of her job. It also refused to create a special job for her that she could do at home, reasoning that this would go beyond making reasonable accommodations.
When she sued, the court threw out her case. It said the organization had done more than it was required to do under the FMLA and that there were no reasonable accommodations possible that would allow her to perform the essential functions of her job. (Smith-Henze v. Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families, No. 06-Civ-3049, SD NY, 2008)
Final note: This case is a reminder that employees who have exhausted their FMLA leave may still be eligible for reasonable accommodations if they are disabled under the ADA.