Employers Can Decide That Physical Presence at Work is an Essential Function

by Cris Naser

On April 10, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its long-awaited en banc decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ford Motor Company following a vacated panel decision from April 2014, in which a divided panel had reversed a district court’s summary judgment award in the employer’s favor.

The case involved an employee who requested to be permitted to telecommute up to four days per week as an accommodation for a health condition. The employer ultimately denied the employee’s request because it determined that regular face-to-face interactions with her team and with a number of contacts both inside and outside of the company was an essential function of her position. The company then proposed alternative accommodations, including offering assistance in finding another position within the company that might be more amenable to the type of telecommuting arrangement the employee desired. The employee rejected these suggestions and offered no other accommodation.

The court engaged in a lengthy discussion of the “essential function” analysis and held that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the EEOC on either the Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation claim or the ADA retaliation claim. Click here for an analysis of the case by Kelly Hughes of the law firm of Ogletree Deakins.