JAMIE LaREAU

Court ruling on telecommuting could affect dealerships

Jamie LaReau covers the automotive retail beat for Automotive News.Jamie LaReau covers the automotive retail beat for Automotive News.
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What does a former Ford Motor Co. employee with irritable bowel syndrome have to do with car dealerships?

Potentially, a lot. That’s because the case surrounding this employee could lead to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission broadening the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of offering a “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s disability, said Mike Charapp, a dealer attorney, in a newsletter to clients.

Here’s what happened: The Ford employee wanted to work from home on some days to avoid the stress of commuting and working in the office when she was symptomatic. Despite Ford having a telecommuting policy for certain employees to work from home for a limited amount of time, it denied this worker’s request. Her performance declined, and she was let go. The EEOC sued on her behalf for violation of the ADA and won.

Charapp said an appeals court ruled that the ADA requirements for reasonable accommodations are permitted because of technological advances, which allow for flexibility in work situations, unless an employer proves an employee’s physical presence is essential.

“The result vindicated the position of the EEOC that an employer should allow telecommuting, where possible, as a reasonable accommodation,” Charapp wrote. “That is likely to lead the EEOC to apply this more broadly.”

Presently, this ruling has limited impact on most car dealership jobs. That’s because those jobs require physical presence, such as personal interaction with customers in sales and service or working on parts and inventory.

But as technology continues to advance, so do the opportunities for most dealership workers to work from home. For example, salespeople could conduct much of their customer courtship via texting or online from their home until an appointment is made for a test drive at the dealership.

Dealers should be careful, Charapp said, because this case might empower the EEOC to keep broadening the extent of ADA reasonable accommodations.

Warns Charapp: “Job descriptions or other requirements of a position should clearly note the importance of physical presence where that is required.”

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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