Can Working From Home Be A Reasonable Disability Accommodation?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that allowing an individual with a disability to work at home may be a form of reasonable accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of a job. The ADA does not require an employer to provide a specific accommodation if it causes undue hardship, i.e., significant difficulty or expense.

Not all persons with disabilities need – or want – to work at home. And not all jobs can be performed at home. But allowing an employee to work at home may be a reasonable accommodation where the person’s disability prevents successfully performing the job on-site and the job, or parts of the job, can be performed at home without causing significant difficulty or expense.

The ADA does not require an employer to offer a telework program to all employees. But if an employer does offer telework, it must allow employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in such a program.

Additionally, the ADA’s reasonable accommodation obligation, which includes modifying workplace policies, might require an employer to waive certain eligibility requirements or otherwise modify its telework program for someone with a disability who needs to work at home. For example, an employer may generally require that employees work at least one year before they are eligible to participate in a telework program. If a new employee needs to work at home because of a disability, and the job can be performed at home, then an employer may have to waive its one-year rule for this individual.  Changing the location where work is performed may fall under the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement of modifying workplace policies, even if the employer does not allow other employees to telework. However, an employer is not obligated to adopt an employee’s preferred or requested accommodation and may instead offer alternate accommodations as long as they would be effective.

This determination should be made through a flexible “interactive process” between the employer and the individual. The process begins with a request. An individual must first inform the employer that s/he has a medical condition that requires some change in the way a job is performed. The individual does not need to use special words, such as “ADA” or “reasonable accommodation” to make this request, but must let the employer know that a medical condition interferes with his/her ability to do the job.

Then, the employer and the individual need to discuss the person’s request so that the employer understands why the disability might necessitate the individual working at home. The individual must explain what limitations from the disability make it difficult to do the job in the workplace, and how the job could still be performed from the employee’s home. The employer may request information about the individual’s medical condition (including reasonable documentation) if it is unclear whether it is a “disability” as defined by the ADA. The employer and employee may wish to discuss other types of accommodations that would allow the person to remain full-time in the workplace. However, in some situations, working at home may be the only effective option for an employee with a disability.

The employer may select any effective accommodation, even if it is not the one preferred by the employee. Reasonable accommodations include adjustments or changes to the workplace, such as: providing devices or modifying equipment, making workplaces accessible (e.g., installing a ramp), restructuring jobs, modifying work schedules and policies, and providing qualified readers or sign language interpreters. An employer can provide any of these types of reasonable accommodations, or a combination of them, to permit an employee to remain in the workplace. For example, an employee with a disability who needs to use paratransit asks to work at home because the paratransit schedule does not permit the employee to arrive before 10:00 a.m., two hours after the normal starting time. An employer may allow the employee to begin his or her eight-hour shift at 10:00 a.m., rather than granting the request to work at home, if this would work with the paratransit schedule.

Disability discrimination cases require legal analysis of federal statutes, U.S. Department of Labor regulations, and court decisions.  I can help you with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.

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