Yes, coming to work is an essential function
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, workers with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. But once their employers have accommodated them, they still need to meet the essential functions of their jobs.
For many positions that require the employee to be at a certain place at a certain time, regular attendance is an essential function of the job.
In other words, disabled workers still have to show up for work.
Recent case: Jerry worked as a cashier at a grocery store, running the register and helping customers bag their purchases. Jerry suffers from anxiety, a condition he claimed qualified as disabling under the FEHA and thus entitled him to reasonable accommodations when his anxiety struck.
For a while, his employer allowed him to call off as an accommodation. But eventually, the absences became so frequent that they affected the store’s ability to adequately staff the registers. Jerry was fired.
He sued, alleging he was entitled to time off as an accommodation.
But the court disagreed. It said coming to work is an essential function of the job. Therefore Jerry wasn’t a qualified disabled person under the FEHA. His requested accommodation—frequent time off—didn’t help him perform the essential function of being there to work the checkout line. (Neufeld v. Winco Holdings, 9th Cir., 2017)
Final note: Always consider offering the option of working from home for jobs that don’t require a physical presence.
However, the court in this case also addressed telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation. It said that “except in the unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties at home, an employee who does not come to work cannot perform any of his job functions, essential or otherwise.”