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When Attendance at the Workplace May Be Considered an Essential Function

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not protect an employee in the following circumstances. Marcus Dunn worked as a chief scheduler for Faithful+Gould, Inc. During the first year and a half of his employment, Mr. Dunn was able to work from home because no local office was yet formed. Once the local office was formed and a new supervisor hired, Mr. Dunn no longer worked from home.
In 2014, Mr. Dunn had two epileptic seizures. His doctor released him to return to work without restriction. However, the state of South Carolina (where he lived and worked) prohibited driving within six months of having a seizure. As that limited his ability to get to work, Mr. Dunn asked that he be permitted to work from home for those six months. The company agreed that he could work from home one day a week over four weeks until Mr. Dunn could solve his transportation problem. He was not allowed to work from home for an extended period of time. When he used up all of his FMLA and company leave, he was fired.
The magistrate and the federal district court concluded that attendance at the worksite was an essential function of Mr. Dunn’s job. In order for the ADA to apply, he had to be able to perform the essential functions of his position with or without accommodation. The court’s conclusion was based on the company’s assessment that onsite attendance was essential and Mr. Dunn’s statements in emails to his doctor that he could not perform his job at home. The fact that it had not been an essential function during the first eighteen months of his employment did not preclude it from being so at the time of his disability. Extended leave was found not to be a reasonable accommodation because the company was not required to spread his job duties around to other employees for that extended period of time.