Yahoo’s New No Telecommuting Rule: Could It Be Unlawful Under the ADA?

By Eric B. Meyer

Over the weekend Kara Swisher on AllThingsD.com reported that Yahoo, under its new leadership, will implement a no-telecommuting rule, effective June 1.

Swisher posted a copy of the internal Yahoo memorandum to its employees, in which the company underscores the “critical” need to be at the office versus working form home where “speed and quality are often compromised.”

Sounds good in theory. But I have a little monkey-wrench.

How about the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Under the ADA, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees where doing so will allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. As I’ve written here before, telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability.

How can a business determine whether telecommuting is a reasonable accommodation?

Article Continues Below

Well, it all begins with an individualized assessment of the employee and an interactive dialogue to discuss whether telecommuting is reasonable under the particular facts and circumstances affecting the employee. Conversely, generalizations and other other inflexible attendance rules, have gotten other employers into trouble.

Maybe Yahoo has a reasonable-accommodation policy that will trump its new edict. Otherwise, its new rule may be a recipe for disaster.

For more on telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation, check out this EEOC resource. And, here is a little more from that Yahoo memo on this new no-telecommuting policy:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

Topics

7 Comments on “Yahoo’s New No Telecommuting Rule: Could It Be Unlawful Under the ADA?

  1. While on the one hand, I totally agree that some of the best collaboration happens spontaneously. I certainly appreciate the dedication to having an engaged and connected working community. I’ve been a p/t telecommuter when the rest of my colleagues were in the office and while I was happy to be excluded from the office politics, I felt out of the loop with general office news. Sure, I knew what I was doing, but very few others knew and it became very clear that out of sight meant out of mind.

    I have also experienced greater productive without the distractions of the office. It’s a tough balance for sure. Looks to me that there’s room for flexibility but the general rule is that employees should work in the office. I’m sure there will be backlash, but “reasonable accommodation” doesn’t mean “giving the employee what he wants.”

  2. I’m sure Yahoo! will accommodate those few who need reasonable accommodation under the ADA. I doubt all or most of the Yahoo! telecommuters qualify for ADA accommodations.

    They have probably discovered that their work-from-home arrangements are being abused and/or are not working as “advertised”.

    1. Are you sure…really sure? I cannot tell you how many times I have
      heard accounts of disabled employees being denied reasonable
      accommodations by managers and employers who see disabilities as personal failings and those who are afflicted with them as disposable trash.

      1. Yeah. I’m sure. I doubt your claim is widespread. The vast majority of employers and managers will make the appropriate accommodations necessary in order to retain a good and productive employee.

  3. Can’t agree more with the memo. It’s a reasonable business expectation that employees be “present” and accountable. Those RARE circumstances wherein a working-from-home accommodation would be appropriate, it should be accompanied with/dependent upon achieving the usual production standards, AND periodic reviews, both of performance and ADA-related, to determine is the accommodation has attained the desired result. To say that the concept of the memo (i.e. the primary place of duty is the Company worksite, vis-a-vis home) is flawed based upon the few exceptions properly considered and possibly granted, is contary to an acceptable and customary business stance.

  4. First, thanks Eric for the viewpoint. I hadn’t thought about telecommuting under ADA. I view this entire decision on behalf of Yahoo a ploy to reduce engagement and get people to leave to cut costs…only thing is, the good performers may be lost as well, not to mention that leadership also needs to be taking accountability for current issues not covertly shifting blame in the form of outdated policies. I actually commented on this topic recently. Although I agree that “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true. ~Charles Dickens” It is simply unrealistic in today’s’ connected and global business world to push for just a F2F business environment for those who require or even desire flexibility, particularly when wonderful technology still provides for visual corresponding, and it’s much cheaper. In addition, the Millennial generation doesn’t hold the same belief on F2F contact, and thus as they are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce maintaining that type of culture will make it difficult to attract them as new talent. That said, I’ve found the most high performing cultures embrace technology and the virtual way of doing business, while still providing basic training on the importance of F2F communication skills.

  5. Colocation while it has been proven to be valuable for project work, does not ensure the highest level of productivity. What this action will incur is the mass exodus of the brilliant and the best.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *