Handling employee requests to telework can be tricky, especially when the request is accompanied by a doctor’s note recommending the employee work at home all or most of the time. But just providing a doctor’s note does not entitle an employee to work at home. An employer needs enough information to understand whether teleworking is a reasonable accommodation, and this means both the employer and employee must engage in the interactive process. Before coming to any conclusions, it is necessary for an employer to understand: (a) how the request to telework addresses any work limitations created by the disability; and (2) how the request to telework, as opposed to some other accommodation, enables an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.
The U.S. District Court in Maryland recently dismissed a failure to accommodate lawsuit involving a request to telework. Terry v. Perdue, D. Md., JKB-18-31, 9/19/18. The Court’s analysis stressed understanding the link (i.e., causation) between the disability and the requested accommodation.
Recardo Terry is an Information Technology Specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture (the “Agency”). According to his complaint, Mr. Terry suffers from chronic low back pain, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is still employed by the Agency. Mr. Terry requested several accommodations for his disabilities. These included Mondays off to attend treatment, no set work schedule, full-time teleworking, and for his home to be designated as his permanent work station. The Agency granted Mr. Terry’s request for Mondays off, agreed to a compressed set work schedule for Tuesday through Friday, and permitted teleworking three days a week. The Agency did not agree to designate Mr. Terry’s home as his permanent duty station, which had been recommended by Mr. Terry’s doctor to allow a full-time telework schedule.
Mr. Terry filed a complaint alleging, among other things, a failure to accommodate his disabilities in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. The Court found the complaint failed to allege that Mr. Terry’s request for full-time telework was reasonable because he did not allege it was necessary for him to perform the essential functions of his position. The Court wrote that “[Mr. Terry] alleges that doctors recommended that his home be his permanent duty station but [he] does not set forth any other facts indicating that such an accommodation was necessary for him to perform the essential functions of his position.” In other words, the complaint did not allege any facts establishing the causal relationship between the disability and the request for accommodation. There was no indication why Mr. Terry needed to work at home, or why that accommodation was necessary for him to perform the essential functions of his job.