Denial of Telework Ruled Discriminatory
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
The EEOC in Blocher v. Department of Veterans Affairs, Appeal No.0120111937 (April 17, 2013), ruled that the VA subjected the complainant to disability discrimination when it denied her request to telework as a reasonable accommodation for her hip disorder.
Blocher was born with congenital hip dysplasia, she both had a difficult time walking and saw her ability to walk deteriorate over the course of her lifetime. By her physician’s recommendation, she underwent hip replacement surgery in January 2010. At the encouragement of her first-line supervisor, Blocher applied for telework as a reasonable accommodation while she recovered from the surgery. However, the request was denied by her second-line supervisor on the basis that he did not believe that someone in her position – she was the chief of a hospital’s health information management service – should be permitted to telework. The second-line supervisor argued that face-to-face time with subordinates was a requirement of the job, and thus, telework was unacceptable.
Blocher filed a complaint alleging disability discrimination. At the conclusion of the investigation, Blocher requested a final agency decision. The agency agreed that she had a disability while recovering from hip replacement surgery but found no discrimination, concluding that Blocher was not a qualified individual with a disability. The agency sided with the second-line supervisor in finding that face-to-face supervision was an essential requirement of the complainant’s job and that her inability to come to work rendered her unqualified for her job.
On appeal the EEOC reversed, ruling that the agency should not base a decision regarding a request for reasonable accommodation solely on whether the employee’s essential job “involves some contact and coordination with other employees. “The EEOC further noted that it was a legitimate reasonable accommodation to institute a part-time telework schedule if the situation permits. Furthermore, the EEOC found that the VA failed to show that a temporary telework schedule for Blocher, while she recovered, was an “undue burden.” Thus, the EEOC found that to deny the accommodation of telework was disability discrimination.