A little over a year ago, tech giant Yahoo! made headlines when CEO Marissa Mayer did away with the company’s generous work-from-home policy.
Now, another large company is getting attention for a similar issue: Ford Motor Company. A lawsuit against the car manufacturer on behalf of Jane Harris alleges that Ms. Harris was fired from her job after she asked to work from home. Ms. Harris suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and requested telecommuting options for four days a week. Ford says the employee was let go due to being unavailable for in-person collaboration.
The case was initially dismissed, but the Sixth Court of Appeals has given it another chance. Perhaps most interesting about this case is the disability element. The lawsuit falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides legal protections to those with disabilities, and could set a precedent not just for future ADA cases but for any company reviewing telecommuting policies. Ford stated Ms. Harris’s presence at the office was a requirement of her job, but the plaintiff argued that her main duties—answering emails and phone calls—could just as easily be done remotely. The way we define work—both in an office and at home—could be changing.
According to The Guardian, there are approximately 6 million telecommuters in the U.S.. And with our ever-increasing reliance on technology, it only makes sense that this number could grow. An office building is no longer a requirement to get work done; responding to emails, participating in conference calls and collaborating on projects can all be done from wherever an employee is based.
With companies like American Express, Accenture, and Healthnet offering employees the option to work remotely, it’s safe to assume lots of eyes will be on the Ford/Harris case. In the 1960s, the saying was that “As GM goes, so does the nation,” a nod to the automaker’s power. In this instance, the player might have changed but the case could very much determine where the nation goes when it comes to working from home.