Working at home may constitute a reasonable accommodation according to a recent decision in Rezvan v Phillips Electronics North America Corp., Case No. 15-cv-04767-HSG (N.D. Calif.) In Rezvan, a former employee with rheumatoid arthritis who worked as a Contract Manager, sued Phillips under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) for disability discrimination. Phillips moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff could not perform the essential functions of her job because regular onsite attendance was an essential duty of a Contract Manager and Plaintiff was frequently absent due to her illness.
Under the FEHA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that she is qualified for the position she held by showing she was able to perform the essential duties of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. The Court held that a disputed material fact existed regarding whether Plaintiff could have performed the essential functions of her position with increased flexibility to work at home and whether that increased flexibility would have been a reasonable accommodation. In reaching this decision, the Court relied on Plaintiff’s supervisor who testified that the key responsibilities of contract managers could be executed remotely. Additionally, Phillips had allowed another contract manager to work at home on a fulltime basis for ten months without reporting to the office, during which time she had no issues completing her work. Plaintiff also established that she frequently requested to work at home on days where her condition worsened. Her supervisor denied these requests, referring to the company’s sick time policy, and insisted that Plaintiff stay at home and not work.
The decision highlights the personalized nature of the interactive process and reminds employers that a “one size fits all” approach is not viable. With the advent of the digital age, many jobs can be performed remotely, and working at home may constitute a reasonable accommodation. To the extent a job requires presence in the office, the job description should be modified to reflect that requirement.