Last month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, which expanded on the court’s view of when remote work qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for an employee who is unable to come into work. Back in 2015, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. Ford Motor Company, the same court had ruled that telecommuting was not a reasonable ADA accommodation unless the employee could demonstrate that regular on-site attendance was not an essential part of their job.
Workforce employment law columnist Jon Hyman, a critic of the Sixth Circuit’s decision in EEOC v. Ford, highlighted the Mosby-Meachem case last month as a welcome sign that case law may be shifting in favor of remote work as a reasonable accommodation:
The plaintiff, Andrea Mosby-Meachem, worked as an in-house labor and employment attorney for Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division. Her boss, MLG&W’s general counsel, Cheryl Patterson, had a written policy requiring strict attendance at work for all who worked in her office. Yet despite that policy, employees often worked from home, including Mosby-Meachem. She had telecommuted for two weeks, without incident, while recovering from neck surgery.
Boston's Make Way for Ducklings Sculpture (Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock)
Last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill extending new legal protections to pregnant workers in the state. The bipartisan bill, which comes into effect on April 1, 2018, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to expectant and new mothers in the workplace, including less strenuous workloads, flexible scheduling, paid or unpaid leave, and private space to nurse.
At SHRM, Christopher B. Kaczmarek and Shannon M. Berube, attorneys with Littler in Boston, provide a detailed overview of what the new law will require of employers:
First, the act requires employers to reasonably accommodate all pregnant employees, just as they are required to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities. … Second, the act requires employers to accommodate employees with a need to express breast milk. … The act goes beyond this limited obligation under federal law and requires an employer to engage in the interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation based on the individual needs of an employee.
The reasonable accommodation obligation could result in employers providing longer or more frequent break times or other accommodations not specifically required under federal law. …
Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first court in the US to rule in favor of an employee who uses medical marijuana and claimed unfair dismissal after being fired from her job for failing a drug test, the Boston Globe‘s Dan Adams reported:
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test. In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”
Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses. Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.
The court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Cristina Barbuto against her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing, which fired her after just one day on the job when she tested positive for marijuana, even though Barbuto said she had told the company during her job interviews that she used it medicinally after work hours to treat her condition and her hiring manager had said it would not be an issue. The lower court will now retry Barbuto’s case under the guidelines established by the high court. (Read the full ruling here.)