Set telecommuting limits in job descriptions

The EEOC has recently taken the position that allowing disabled employees to telecommute may be a reasonable accommodation. That’s fine for employers that are set up for telecommuting and already have other employees working from home.

But for other employers, establishing a telecommuting option can be complicated, expensive and—maybe—completely impractical. Some jobs just can’t be performed remotely.

If you honestly believe that allowing disabled employees to work from home is unreasonable, be sure your job descriptions reflect that reality. Include being physically present at your office or other job site among the job’s essential functions.

Courts generally honor job descriptions as accurate representations of the actual work that needs to be performed. Listing site-specific, hands-on tasks or face-to-face interactions as essential functions makes it less likely that a court will deem telecommuting a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees.

Recent case: Ana worked as an educator in an Atlanta hospital, teaching new parents about the benefits of using car seats for infants and young children. Her job involved talking to parents and helping them find car seats if they could not afford them.

Her job description listed as essential job functions organizing and implementing the hospital’s car seat program, developing program materials, coordinating safety classes, attending meetings, supervising a subordinate and overseeing distributions of car seats.

When Ana developed pregnancy complications, she asked to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. The hospital refused, and she sued.

The hospital maintained the job simply wasn’t amenable to working from home because it required Ana to meet with parents, provide safety education, supervise another worker and otherwise interact directly at the hospital with clients and co-workers.

The court agreed that working from home was unreasonable. It tossed out Ana’s suit. (Everett v. Grady Memorial, 11th Cir., 2017)