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Accommodating Homework
In 2001, we wrote about a company that legally fired an assembly-line worker for absenteeism caused by a medical condition (see Want a Job? Then Work). Soon after, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that another company may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing a disabled employee for absenteeism.

In this new case, Memorial Hospitals Association fired a medical transcriptionist named Carolyn Humphrey for tardiness and absenteeism. According to a psychologist, Humphrey had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which caused her to be late and miss work. Because of her OCD, Humphrey sometimes spent hours in the morning obsessively grooming herself and going through time-consuming rituals in preparation for leaving her home.

After her condition was diagnosed, Humphrey asked for permission to work from her home. However, under company policy, employees who were involved in disciplinary actions were ineligible for a work-at-home arrangement. Since Humphrey had recently been disciplined for her absenteeism, her supervisor denied her request to work at home.

Soon after, Humphrey missed two days of work and was fired. Recently, the federal Court ruled that Memorial Hospitals may have violated the ADA by failing to accommodate Humphrey.

The Court wrote, "Working at home is a reasonable accommodation when the essential functions of the position can be performed at home and a work-at-home arrangement would not cause undue hardship for the employer." Since Memorial Hospital permitted other transcriptionists to work at home, it was unlikely that also allowing Humphrey to do this would be an "undue hardship."

Although the company did not permit disciplined workers to work at home, the Court ruled that Memorial Hospital could not deny her an accommodation for this reason. Basically, an employer may not deny an accommodation due to a discipline problem when the reason for the discipline is the employee's disability. "It would be inconsistent with the purposes of the ADA to permit an employer to deny an otherwise reasonable accommodation because of past disciplinary action taken due to the disability sought to be accommodated."

Since "the duty to accommodate is a continuing duty that is not exhausted by one effort," the Court ruled the company "had an affirmative duty under the ADA to explore further methods of accommodation before terminating Humphrey."

If you have questions about this topic and would like to get answers tailored to you, read Memos:
5730 Employer Must Accommodate Disabled Persons
5735 Accommodation Must Be Reasonable
5750 Accommodating Disabilities: Policy Changes

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