December 17, 2014
From the beginning, the employee had attendance and punctuality problems, and the problems didn’t improve even when the employer adjusted her schedule. After she was diagnosed with MS, the company approved intermittent FMLA leave and accommodated her request to work from home. By the end, she was working from home for all but two half-days per week. But the employer continued to insist that she log on to work at her set start time, or call in to say whether her absence was related to her FMLA. Despite working from home, her attendance and punctuality problems persisted and she was fired.
Based on earlier local cases, the employee argued regular attendance and punctuality were not essential to her position because the company permitted work from home. The Seventh Circuit court disagreed and found she was not a “qualified” for the job because she could not or would not follow her schedule even from home. The company’s “Work at Home” policy did not make punctuality and regular attendance any less essential. Taylor-Novotny v. Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc., No. 2:12-cv-02132 (7th Cir. Nov. 26, 2014). This is an important clarification from the Seventh Circuit, but NB: this employer knew when the employee wasn’t at work, even while at home, because of computer and telephone log in procedures.