July 5, 2014
The year 2012 saw a surge in telecommuting practices when a U.S. district in Michigan court acknowledged that employers should be able to judge whether or not it is acceptable for employees to work from home. This year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the EEOC, which charged that Ford Motor Company had violated the ADA by firing an employee when she filed an EEOC charge as a result of not being able to telecommute. Telecommuting is now becoming close to the norm for many businesses, including B2B companies.
EEOC vs. Ford Motor
In the year prior to the court’s ruling, EEOC asserted that Ford Motor’s denial of Jane Harris’s request to telecommute as an accommodation for her diagnosis was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit claimed that Ford Motor retaliated by firing her after she reported the issue to the EEOC.
At the time, Ford Motor did have a telecommuting policy in place. It authorized certain employees to work from a telecommuting site up to four days per week. Harris was a resale steel buyer, and her job primarily consisted of computer and telephone contact with her colleagues and clients.
The district court ruled in favor of Ford Motor, claiming that Harris’s presence at her job site was an integral part of her job. The court also indicated that her absences meant she was not “qualified” under ADA, and that telecommuting was not a reasonable accommodation. Finally, there was no proof that Harris’s termination from employment was retaliatory because it was based on poor attendance and performance issues that were present prior to the accusations.
Upon appeal, the higher court reversed the decision. The majority reported that the workplace should be defined as anywhere work-related duties can effectively be completed, and the law must accommodate technological advancements in the context of employment.
The Benefits of Telecommuting
According to an infographic created and distributed by the team at ClickMeeting, statistics show that telecommuters are less stressed, less likely to call off from work, and more efficient. These factors illustrate high morale as well, which boosts retention. There are countless benefits to telecommuting, especially for folks with disabilities. Consider some of the following:
- It encourages a work-life balance. Telecommuting saves significant time that would otherwise be used commuting, especially for those who must rely on the schedules of accessible transportation services. The time saved by telecommuting allows greater opportunity for spending time with family and engaging with others socially. It can also facilitate better self-care, which would eventually impact the cost of health insurance.
- The hours are often flexible. Employer telecommuting policies vary. Some require a virtual presence between specific hours, while others have no concern about when work is completed – as long as it is, in fact, completed. The latter option is especially useful, because it allows employees to balance needs, such as therapy and doctor appointments, while working at times that are most convenient for them. For telecommuters with children, this option enables them to attend school plays, parent-teacher conferences, and the like without having to spend much time away from work, as most children attend school close to the home.
- It’s less expensive. Both employers and employees can save money by embracing telecommuting. It eliminates transportation costs, for instance, and the need for a professional wardrobe. Telecommuting can be perceived as a gain in the employees’ incomes without actually costing the employer more.
The Ford Motor ruling is encouraging employers to abandon the archaic assumption that work must be accomplished in a formal office setting. They should now be, at least, entertaining the options of implementing or improving telecommuting policies. There is a myth that people don’t work as hard when they’re not managed in a controlled environment. It is rabidly being debunked.
At this point, employers would be wise to review the job descriptions of their employees and evaluate whether their physical presences are required to effectively perform their duties. Before changing policies, they may measure the successes of potential modifications to learn which accommodations and elements of telecommuting are most beneficial. Although the legal system is not presuming to dictate the telecommuting policies of private entities, it is reasonably demanding that the needs of workers with disabilities be accommodated via this option when necessary.
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