Employee’s Preference to Work from Home Is Not Enough

By Joe Hunt

Courts are becoming more receptive to the idea of working from home as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). A few principles remain static, however, as reflected by the Eight Circuit decision affirming summary judgment for the employer in Brunckhorst v. City of Oak Park Heights, No. 17-3238 (8th Cir. Feb. 4, 2019). An employer is not required to accommodate an employee based simply on the employee’s preference. In Brunckhorst, the employee’s doctor never suggested the employee needed to work from home. Instead, the doctor said the employee should be allowed to work on-site, four hours per day. The employer offered on-site work with short days, but the employee held out for work from home. Why? In his deposition, the employee explained it was easier to work from home. The employee also admitted that he would be unable to perform some of his essential duties remotely. Someone on-site would have to help him.

What is the lesson for employers? When an employee with a disability requests to work from home, review the job description. Determine whether being present in the workplace is an essential function of the job. Request a medical provider’s opinion regarding the employee’s limitations and evaluate whether working remotely will address the employee’s limitations. Determine whether equally effective alternative accommodations exist in the workplace.