Does an employer have a duty to accommodate an employee’s commute?


Alisha, an employee in your organization, suffers from narcolepsy. She lives 79 miles away from your facility, and her commute takes between two and four hours. She has been working from 6:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. without any complaints. When your organization changed her department’s standard work hours to 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Alisha informed you that her narcolepsy would make it difficult for her to work the new hours because she would be commuting in heavier traffic. She requested that she be able to continue working her old hours or to work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. without taking a lunch break. Although you advised her that she could apply for eligibility to take leave under the FMLA, she submitted her resignation, noting that she was resigning because of the “tremendous consequence” the change in work hours would have on her narcolepsy. She then sued claiming that your organization failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her alleged disability of narcolepsy. Will she be successful?


No. In a case with similar facts, the Sixth Circuit ruled that a female employee with narcolepsy, who resigned after her employer refused her request to alter her work schedule to minimize her drive to and from work, was unable to pursue her disability bias claim under the ADA. According to the court, the ADA does not require an employer to accommodate an employee’s commute, and therefore the employee’s request was not reasonable.

Declining to decide whether the employee was in fact disabled, the appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that her request for an altered work schedule did not constitute a reasonable accommodation. First, although she proposed that her employer let her work an earlier schedule so that she could commute in what she believed to be lighter traffic, she did not present evidence supporting the theory that her proposed schedule would have provided a commute with lighter traffic.

Moreover, the Sixth Circuit adopted the view of many other courts that the ADA does not require an employer to accommodate an employee’s commute. In so doing, it followed the reasoning of those courts that, while employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations that eliminate barriers in the work environment, they are not required to eliminate those barriers that exist outside the work environment. Accordingly, the employer was not required to accommodate the employee’s request for a commute during more convenient hours. Thus, her proposal of a modified work schedule for purposes of commuting during hours with allegedly lighter traffic was not a reasonable accommodation.

Source: Regan v Faurecia Automotive Seating, Inc (6thCir 2012) 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9470.

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