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Whether Teleworking is Reasonable Accommodation Varies

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against an employee seeking remote work as an accommodation. Elisa Yochim worked as an attorney for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. In 2012, she had carpal tunnel surgery in her hands. Shortly before her surgery, HUD underwent a restructuring that impacted its expectations for attorneys.

After her surgery, Yochim was allowed to work from home one to two days a week and to take leave days when she was supposed to be in the office. She requested full-time work from home as an accommodation, but that request was denied. Other accommodations were offered to her such as compressing her schedule into four days with two at home and two at the office as well the opportunity to set her beginning and end time of her shift to avoid traffic. Yochim asked to be able to work from home full time for several months and submitted notes from her physicians supporting her request that she should not be commuting. Yochim was again offered a compressed schedule, three days working from home and the right to leave 15 minutes early. After a review, she was also allowed to work from home for two hours in the morning to avoid rush hour. Yochim worked with this accommodation for several months. Then she asked for two more days of teleworking because of her pain and medical appointments. This request was denied but she was offered other accommodations, which she rejected. Yochim retired and filed suit for disability discrimination.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that “no rational jury could find that HUD failed to offer Yochim reasonable accommodations or engage in the interactive process in good faith.” Federal law requires employers to engage in an interactive dialogue when a disabled employee requests accommodation. Evidence was provided of “meaningful” back and forth discussions to support that HUD had acted in good faith. The court concluded that it was Yochim’s insistence on one particular accommodation that doomed the negotiations. HUD asserted that Yochim needed to be in the office for some periods. The appellate court noted that a “'general consensus [exists] among courts’ that jobs ‘often require face-to-face collaboration.’” Yochim failed to counter HUD’s argument that her position was such a job. HUD established that attorneys worked in teams, collaborated, and cross-trained particularly after the restructuring. Yochim also failed to show why the accommodations offered did not meet the needs set forth by her and her doctors as a concern.