No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Telecommuting Case
This, my fourth and last post about the Sixth Circuit’s decision in EEOC v. Ford Motor Company (6th Cir. April 22,2014), deals with the adage, variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Clare Booth Luce and a host of others, that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Recall the plaintiff in this case, Harris, a resale buyer, had sought to work from home for up to four days per week. The Sixth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment to Ford, holding that the telecommuting request may have been a request for a reasonable accommodation.
First, the good deed. Ford had extended telecommuting options to other resale buyers, “albeit on a more limited basis than Harris’s initial request.”
And then the punishment. The dissent quoted the EEOC’s summary of its position at oral argument: “If that part of the [resale buyer] work is so critical and spontaneous that you can’t predict when it’s going to happen, then it doesn’t make sense for Ford to let anybody telecommute ever. Yet [Ford does] let people telecommute, people doing the exact same job as [Harris] is.”
And then the lesson, as taught by the dissenting judge: “So the lesson for companies from this case is that, if you have a telecommuting policy, you have to let every employee use it to its full extent, even under unequal circumstances, even when it harms your business operations, because if you fail to do so, you could be in violation of the law. Of course, companies will respond to this case by tightening their telecommuting policies …to avoid that legal liability, and countless employees who benefit from generous telecommuting policies will be adversely affected by the limited flexibility…I find this outcome regrettable.”
We have encountered and posted about this “no good deed” leave management lesson previously. In EEOC v. AT&T Corp. (D. IN. November 20, 2013), a federal district court in Indiana rejected an employer’s argument that attendance is an essential function, noting that the company had 22 “formal” leave of absence plans. Perhaps the employer would have fared better if it had no leave policies beyond those required by law.
Of course, for employers who do “good deeds,” the issue now is whether to be deterred by these few “regrettable” outcomes… or to continue to do good deeds anyway.