Telecommuting isn’t always a reasonable accommodation for disabled workers

Some employees who need reasonable accommodations may insist on having the option to work from home. That may be a workable solution for some positions. However, it won’t be appropriate for other jobs that require direct supervision or the employee’s physical presence in the workplace.

Recent case: Cynthia, a tenured librarian at Riverside Community College, moved into a administrative management position. Her job included supervising staff and student workers. While in that role, she asked for medical leave to deal with disabilities including depression. She was approved for an eight-month leave of absence.

Cynthia sought to return to work earlier, but with the ability to work from home several days per week. Her request was turned down because in management’s view, her job required daily interaction with her subordinates on campus.

She sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court rejected Cynthia’s claim, reasoning that she could have remained out longer since her leave had been approved—and that, in itself, was a reasonable accommodation. (Tenpas v. Riverside Community College, Court of Appeal of California, 2018)

Final note: As the employer, you get to pick the reasonable accommodation. It does not have to be the accommodation the employee prefers. What matters is that the accommodation is reasonable.

In this case, Cynthia had already been approved for leave and could have remained out instead of requesting permission to work from home. That was a reasonable accommodation and the one the employer chose.