Is Showing Up for Work a Job Requirement?

Associating Woody Allen with employment law is not exactly intuitive, but retired litigator Gregory McClune aptly used a quote from Allen to summarize a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a post for Labor and Employment Perspectives.

“Woody Allen is credited with the observation that ‘showing up is 80% of life.’ A federal court of appeals in New Orleans has gone one step further, ruling that showing up for work is a 100% requirement in most circumstances.”

The case, Renee Credeur v. State of Louisiana, involved a litigation attorney employed by the Office of Attorney General of the State of Louisiana (DOJ) who developed serious health problems due to complications from a kidney transplant. Her employer granted temporary accommodations allowing her to work at home with the goal of returning to work as her health improved.

After several months, the employer denied a request to extend the telecommuting accommodation, but offered an alternative that Credeur rejected. When the employee renewed her request to continue working at home, the DOJ again denied it. Credeur sued the DOJ for “failure to accommodate, harassment, and retaliation in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).” When the district court issued a summary judgment in favor of the DOJ, Credeur appealed.

As telecommuting has become more common in the U.S. workforce, many employees seek the flexibility of working at home. However, telecommuting fulltime or for an indefinite period is not practical or appropriate for many jobs. Still, if an employee claims to be suffering from a disability that requires working at home, the employer must comply with the ADA and provide accommodation.

The ADA stipulates that the employee must be able to perform all essential functions of the job, “with or without reasonable accommodation.” The court cited many prior decisions concluding that regular work-site attendance is an essential function of most jobs, and thus ruled that Chedeur’s inability to regularly work at the office disqualified her for the DOJ position.

The court further noted that, while many employers have policies permitting telecommuting under certain circumstances, interpreting the ADA “to require employers to offer the option of unlimited telecommuting to a disabled employee would have a chilling effect.”

In short, showing up at work is essential and the employer has a right to insist on an employee’s physical presence. This time, at least, Woody Allen was right.

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