Whereas ten years ago working from home was an exception afforded employees only under special circumstances, working from home today is the norm for millions of Americans. In fact, many Americans work from home at least one day per week. Many companies even set up employees with home offices in order to minimize the need for office space. The feasibility of working from home has placed the issue of telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation center stage.
On April 22, 2014, the Sixth Circuit, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ford Motor Co., for the first time, recognized that modern technology has made telecommuting a realistic, reasonable accommodation option. According to the facts, Jane Harris worked as a resale buyer for Ford. Her job duties included purchasing steel and reselling it to individuals responsible for manufacturing and supplying vehicle parts to Ford's plants. Ford claimed that the position was highly interactive and required face to face meetings between resale buyers and purchasers.
Throughout her entire period of employment with Ford, Harris suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), an illness that caused fecal incontinence. Over time, her symptoms worsened and, on bad days, Harris could not drive to work or stand up from her desk without soiling herself. In 2009, Harris requested to work from home as a reasonable accommodation on an as-needed basis and Ford, after engaging in an interactive process with Harris, declined the request. Ford maintained that in-person communications were an essential part of the position. Thereafter, Harris filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.
In 2011 the EEOC filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleging that Ford violated the ADA by failing to accommodate Harris' disability. The District Court granted Summary Judgment in favor of Ford. The EEOC appealed to the Sixth Circuit.