A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO TELEWORK AS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION DURING THE PANDEMIC

By Linda Carter Batiste, J.D and Tracie DeFreitas: For Complete Post, click here…

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), telework has long been considered a form of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the EEOC provides useful guidance about telework as an accommodation, the pandemic has created a multitude of new telework issues for employers to consider. For employers who are looking for guidance on how to address these issues, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers the following practical suggestions.

Apply Your Usual Policies First

Any time an employee asks to telework as an accommodation for a disability-related reason, be sure to check whether your usual telework policy covers the request. It could violate the ADA to make employees with disabilities take extra steps to access a benefit of employment that is available to all employees. If employees can telework during the pandemic, then employees with disabilities should not have to go through the interactive process to do the same. For more information, see Workplace Flexibility, the ADA, and Requesting Medical Information.

Apply Appropriate Laws

Employees may request telework for various reasons during the pandemic, such as being at-risk because of a disability, pregnancy, or age, or out of concern about exposing an at-risk family member. Unless you are allowing all employees to telework upon request, you must apply the appropriate law to each request. If the request is related to an employee’s disability, JAN provides a Telework Accommodation Request Flowchart to help process the request under the ADA.

Don’t Deny Telework Solely to Avoid Providing Accommodations

Employers who are implementing a hybrid approach to returning to work, with employees working part-time in the workplace and part-time at home, may be tempted to deny employees with disabilities the option of working part-time from home if they need accommodations (e.g., equipment, software, etc.) in both locations. The EEOC has noted that during the pandemic, if an employee with a disability needs the same reasonable accommodation at a telework site that was provided at the workplace, the employer should provide that accommodation, absent undue hardship (What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws (WYSK), Question D.14.). Denying access to telework solely to avoid providing accommodations in both locations could violate the ADA.

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