April 1995

Workplace Labor Update - Request to Work at Home May Be Reasonable Under the ADA – April 1995

3 min

A federal court in Louisiana recently held that a disabled employee’s request to work from home was not necessarily an unreasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Anzalone v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 93-2248 (E.D.La. 1995). The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled individuals who, with or without accommodation, are qualified to perform the essential functions of their position. The ADA imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals, unless the employer can show that an accommodation would create an undue hardship. Anzalone, a claims adjuster for Allstate, seriously injured his back when he fell from a roof that he was inspecting for storm damage. Anzalone collected worker’s compensation benefits for two months, at which point his doctor issued him a restricted medical release, allowing him to return to fieldwork with no climbing. The release also advised against extended periods of sitting. Upon his return to work, Anzalone was assigned to telephone duty. Shortly thereafter, Anzalone informed Allstate that the extended periods of sitting required for working telephone duty aggravated his back condition. Subsequently, Allstate made numerous offers of accommodation, which included offering a therapeutic chair, special headsets, breaks, rest times, and the opportunity to stand, walk, and recline. Anzalone refused these offers, and instead requested that Allstate allow him to work out of his home, and provided a physician’s letter recommending this accommodation. Allstate rejected Anzalone’s request as unreasonable. When the case went to court, Allstate argued that Anzalone could not recover under the ADA because he had rejected Allstate’s offers of accommodation and because his request to work from home was unreasonable. Allstate presented evidence that none of its employees in Louisiana were permitted to work from home, and that claims involving fieldwork are not customarily separated into climbing and non- climbing assignments. In deciding the case, the court observed that Allstate already allowed some employees (who were located outside of Louisiana) to work from home, including two disabled employees. The court also found that Anzalone’s physician credibly advised that Anzalone could perform the duties of an adjuster if permitted to work from his home. Finally, the court noted that the essential functions of Anzalone’s job did not involve teamwork under supervision, or clerical functions such as typing, filing, copying, and mailing. Rather, the functions of a claims adjuster involve the evaluation of claims of bodily injury, property damage, and theft by performing observations in the field, as opposed to at an office desk. Accordingly, the court held that Anzalone’s request to work from home was not necessarily unreasonable under the ADA, and refused to dismiss the case. This case is important because it makes clear that employers cannot automatically refuse to grant a request for accommodation that would permit an employee to work from home. Employers should strive to assess what constitutes a reasonable accommodation on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the nature of the job, the individual, and the disability.