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"Home Office" Not Reasonable
In 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new "telework" guidelines based on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the EEOC, people with disabilities may be entitled to work from home "even if the employer does not allow other employees to telework." (See Is Attendance Essential?)

Coincidentally, only one week after the EEOC issued the new guidelines, a federal Court of Appeals decided a case involving the same topic. The case concerned Beverly Rauen, an Illinois software engineer, who accused her employer, United States Tobacco (UST), a leading snuff manufacturer, of violating the ADA by failing to let her work from home.

In 1996, Rauen was diagnosed with cancer. Rauen's sickness and medical treatments, which lasted for several years and included surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, caused overwhelming fatigue. Because of these complications, Rauen's doctor signed a letter advising UST that it would be beneficial for her to work from a home office.

Rauen and UST met to discuss her request, and she took the following notes:

"They asked how this home office would work. How many days would I be at home. I said I would be at the plant as needed — that my job was not routine, it was project oriented, so that, as projects required it, I would be here 7 days a week.... But if there were no reason to be here, then I would be home. They said they felt that some structure was needed, maybe coming to work 1 day each week. I said I could see no reason to do that for the sake of doing that."

"They asked who would determine when I came to work. ... [F]or the most part, I would determine when I would be here. They asked me if there was any accommodation they could make at work for me. I said 'No.'"
The Court described her work: "Rauen's primary duties involve monitoring contractors' work, answering contractors' questions as they arise, and ensuring that the contractors' work does not interfere with the manufacturing process."

The Court noted, "the accommodation Rauen sought was a home office 'in its entirety.' According to her, she would accept nothing less than being allowed to work from home when she thought she was not needed at the office." Thus, "we must decide whether this sort of home office would have been a reasonable accommodation for Rauen."

The Court answered the question in the negative: "the specific accommodation that Rauen has requested in this case is not reasonable."

The Court wrote, "Generally, an employer is not required to accommodate a disability by allowing the disabled worker to work, by himself, without supervision, at home. The reason working at home is rarely a reasonable accommodation is because most jobs require the kind of teamwork, personal interaction, and supervision that simply cannot be had in a home office situation."

"The central components of Rauen's job require her to be at the office. It is difficult to understand how these sorts of tasks could be performed from home. Further, in the type of project and production work that Rauen's job involves, problems requiring immediate resolution would undoubtedly arise on the spur of the moment. [H]ers is the kind of job that requires teamwork, interaction, and coordination of the type that requires being in the work place. Thus, her situation does not present the exceptional case where a work-at-home accommodation would be reasonable."

Accordingly, the Court ruled in favor of the company and dismissed Rauen's lawsuit. [Rauen v. USTM (7th Cir. 2003) no. 01-3973]

For more information on this topic that's tailored to your company profile, request Memos:
5750 Accommodating Disabilities: Policy Changes
5735 Accommodation Must Be Reasonable
4500 Smoking Restrictions in the Workplace

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